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Avoid Deadly Drug Interactions

Dangerous drug interactions are one of the most serious problems older people face. The more medicines they take the more likely there will be an incompatible combination. Combine the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin) with a pain reliever like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) and you could end up with a life-threatening bleeding ulcer. Add prednisone to the combination and the odds of problems increase dramatically.
One reader offered the following account:

“I could have cried when I read a physician’s comment in which he admits that many of his geriatric patients are over medicated, but fears that stopping anything might lead to a lawsuit should Mom have a heart attack or stroke. I suspected that my 88 year-old mother was on too many pills due to her confusion, depression, and general malaise.
“Her only ailments were arthritis and high blood pressure, yet she took over ten pills a day. I accompanied her to every doctor’s visit, and always asked the doctor if there was any pill that could be eliminated, or reduced in dosage. I always received the same answer, ‘if I stop this pill, she could have a stroke; if I stop that pill she could have a heart attack.’ Nothing was stopped and my mother continued going downhill despite all these ‘helpful’ pills, dying shortly before her 90th birthday in an assisted living home, unable to care for herself.
“You say to be vigilant but how can a person go up against a medical professional who predicts dire consequences if your loved one doesn’t follow the medical advice. I wish I’d had the courage to have my mother stop taking many of her prescribed pills, but I trusted the doctor. How sad that they are more worried about themselves than their patients.”

We have never understood the logic that a doctor could be sued for stopping a medicine but could not be sued for starting a medicine that causes serious or life-threatening side effects. If a patient is not benefiting form a medication or is suffering severe adverse reactions, it only seems logical that everyone would want to find an appropriate way to discontinue the drug and, if necessary, find something that works and does not cause complications.
Most doctors really want to do the right things for their patients. The trouble is that specialists know the medicines that are appropriate in their field. Cardiologists, for example, understand medications for cholesterol control, hypertension or irregular heart rhythms, but they may not know about the compatibility of those drugs with the medicines a gastroenterologist prescribes for controlling acid in the stomach or the drugs a neurologist might recommend for nerve pain (neuropathy).
We have learned that many physicians and pharmacists override the drug interaction alerts that come up on their smart phones or computers. That may be because they are in such a hurry these days that it is easier to ignore the warnings than take extra time to research the risk and severity of the potential interaction.
We have written extensively about how to protect yourself or someone you love from these pharmaceutical problems in the chapter, “Drug Interactions Can Be Deadly” in our new book, Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them. We provide a list of Top 11 Tips for Preventing Dangerous Drug Interactions along with the Top 10 Questions to Ask Your Doctor When You Get a Prescription and the Top 10 Screwups Pharmacists Make.
One recent comment from far away:
“I want to THANK YOU for this interesting and useful book. 
It was no problem what-so-ever to get hold of it here in Sweden.
 We have different health care systems, but most problems that you write about are familiar. I think it’s an excellent Christmas present.” Marie, Nov 7, 2011

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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