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Medication Problems

Several kinds of adverse medication reactions can occur:

Side effects . Side effects are predictable but unpleasant reactions to a drug. They are usually mild, but they can be inconvenient. In some cases, they are more serious.

Allergies . Some people have severe, sometimes life-threatening reactions (called anaphylaxis) to certain medications. See Allergies for signs of an allergic reaction.

Medication Guidelines

The following are basic guidelines for taking prescription and nonprescription medications:

  • Use medications only if nondrug approaches are not working.

  • Know the benefits and side effects of a medication before taking it.

  • Take the minimum effective dose.

  • Never take a drug prescribed for someone else.

  • Follow the prescription instructions exactly or let your doctor know why you didn't.

  • Keep medications tightly capped in their original containers, and store them as directed.

  • Do not take medications in front of small children. Children are great mimics. Don't oversell the "candy" taste of children's medicines or leave children's vitamins accessible to children.

  • Add a consumer's guide to medications to your home health library.

Drug-drug interactions . These occur when 2 or more prescription or nonprescription drugs mix in a person's body and cause an adverse reaction. The symptoms can be severe and may be improperly diagnosed as a new illness.

Adverse Drug Reactions

Side effects, drug-drug and food-drug interactions, over-medication, and addiction may cause:

  • Nausea, indigestion, vomiting

  • Constipation, diarrhea, inability to control urine, or difficulty urinating

  • Dry mouth

  • Headache, dizziness, ringing in the ears, or blurred vision

  • Confusion, forgetfulness, disorientation, drowsiness, or depression

  • Difficulty sleeping, irritability, or nervousness

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Rashes, bruising, and bleeding problems

Don't assume any symptom is a normal side effect that you have to suffer with. Call your doctor or pharmacist any time you suspect that your medicines are making you sick.

Drug-food interactions . These occur when medications react with food. Some drugs work best when taken with food, but others should be taken on an empty stomach. Some drug-food reactions can cause serious symptoms.

Overmedication . Sometimes the full adult dose of a medication is too much for small people and those over age 60. Too much of a drug can be very dangerous.

Addiction . Long-term use of some medications can lead to dependency, and severe reactions may occur if the medications are withdrawn suddenly. Narcotics, tranquilizers, and barbiturates must be taken very carefully to prevent addiction. See Alcohol and Drug Problems.

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