Know Your Rx, OTC and Vitamins

Avoiding drug interactions is essential for good health

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A lot of us take multiple medications, often combining prescription and over-the-counter medicines with vitamins and herbal supplements. While medications are important for staying healthy, sometimes taking certain medications together can cause serious side effects.

Taking all your medicines safely can get confusing. Arming yourself with information about your medications and supplements can help you prevent unnecessary, life-threatening mishaps.

"Having a list of your medications can save your life."

Dr. Lorraine J. Gudas, chairman of the Department of Pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Dr. Mark S. Lachs, director of geriatrics at NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System and author of Treat Me, Not My Age, offer the following tips to help you stay on track with your medications and steer clear of unsafe drug interactions.

Keep a list of your medications with you at all times. You never know when this information might be needed, whether it be for a simple trip to the pharmacy or in case of a medical emergency.

Make sure to include on the list the brand and generic names of your prescription and over-the-counter medications, along with how much of each drug you take and how often you take it. Here's an example:

  • Aldactone (spironolactone) 25 mg daily
  • Zyrtec (cetirizine hydrochloride) 10 mg daily
  • Tylenol (acetaminophen) 500 mg as needed

Don't forget to include all vitamins and supplements on your list of medications. They too can interfere with prescription medications. Whenever possible, jot down the dosage and frequency of each of the supplements you take. Again, here's an example:

  • Vitamin D3 2,000 IU daily
  • Melatonin 3 mg nightly

Sometimes a dietary supplement combines several vitamins or herbs into one capsule or tablet. While it may make your list a bit longer, be sure to record the key ingredients in any combination supplement you take, along with the dosage of each ingredient per tablet or capsule. For example, a vitamin B complex tablet contains the following ingredients:

Once you have your list put together and typed, print several copies that you can give to every one of your health care providers, regardless if he or she prescribes new medications or suggests dosage changes. Don't forget that your pharmacist is a key part of your health care team too and should definitely have a copy of the list.

To avoid confusion, both for yourself and any person who might need to treat you in an emergency, never mix medications in the same bottle, even when traveling. Dr. Gudas and Dr. Lachs even suggest taping an actual pill to your personal copy of your medication list to help you identify which medicine is which. If you're more Web savvy, you can often find images of specific drugs online that you can copy and paste into your medication list document.

If you are thinking of buying a new vitamin, mineral or other dietary supplement or adding an over-the-counter medication to your regimen, ask your doctor or pharmacist first. He or she can make sure that the medication or supplement won't interact with your existing medications and that the new product is appropriate for you. Never take a new medication or supplement based on a friend's or family member's personal testimony.

Also, avoid adding a medication or supplement to your regimen after reading about it in an online or print article or after hearing about it on a TV news program or talk show. When you hear about a new medicine or a health tip, ask yourself, "Is this information based on a clinical trial or an observational study, or is this only a personal endorsement?" Just because Dr. Oz or Dr. Phil thinks a supplement is great doesn't necessarily mean it's right for you.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 10, 2011
Last Updated:
October 10, 2011