Many commonly prescribed drugs have potentially fatal side-effects when mixed with other medications, over-the-counter drugs, supplements and even foods. This is true for the widely used cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins, which can be deadly when mixed with grapefruit juice. These medications include atorvastatin, simvastatin, lovastatin and fluvastatin.
'Most people don't know that something as common as drinking grapefruit juice when taking statins can increase the risk of muscle pain and have serious adverse side effects that can be life-threatening,' says Ed Dannemiller, specialist pharmacist in the Express Scripts Cardiovascular Therapeutic Resource Center (TRC). 'The juice can substantially raise the concentration of statins in the body and make them much more potent.'
As a specialist pharmacist, Dannemiller is one of a team of experts who are specifically trained to help patients with heart disease understand everything they need to know about their medications, including how their diet and other medications they take may affect their health. They also work closely with physicians to prevent potential problems that medications may pose to their patients.
'Another popular drug, warfarin, which is a blood thinner that helps prevent heart attack and stroke, can react harmfully with a number of commonly used products,' he says. 'When warfarin is mixed with antidepressants, alcohol, ibuprofen or aspirin, and even herbal products like gingko biloba or garlic, patients may be at risk of internal bleeding.'
If you are one of the millions of Americans being treated for one of these common conditions, Dannemiller offers these tips to help prevent medication interactions.
* Ask before you use: Check with your doctor or pharmacist to find out what foods, medications and supplements should be avoided when taking a medication. Some combinations cause bad reactions by making the drug more potent, while others can make the medication less effective.
* Read the fine print: Always read the caution information provided in the medication package and make sure you understand how and when to take your medications. Instructions such as taking your dose with food or on an empty stomach should not be overlooked. Also, taking too much or too little of a drug can significantly impact how well the drug works.
* Look beyond prescriptions: Make sure your physicians know all the other medications and supplements you're taking, such as herbal remedies and over-the-counter products, including vitamins since some interactions can cause life threatening side-effects.
* Follow doctor's orders: Taking your medications as prescribed by your doctor is essential for ensuring that they'll effectively treat your condition. Don't ever stop taking your medications or simply use them 'when needed' without talking to your physician or specialist pharmacist. Even if you have no apparent symptoms, you may still be at risk. For example, blood pressure can reach dangerous levels, yet a patient may not be aware of any of the warning signs. Remember, just because you don't notice any symptoms doesn't mean that your disease is under control.
For more information and additional ways you can avoid harmful drug interactions, visit Express Scripts' Healthcare Insights blog at lab.express-scripts.com.