The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1064: How Can You Avoid Hazardous Drug Interactions?

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Before taking any medication, patients should be clear about potential benefits, risks and drug interactions that are relevant.

Medications are often crucial for maintaining our health, but every drug you take has potential side effects and may interact with other medicines. What do you know about these hazards?

Understanding Benefits and Risks:

Our guest, Dr. Russ Altman, suggests that physicians should exercise more restraint in prescribing and patients should ask more questions about the drugs they are expected to take. That way, everyone will have a better understanding of the balance of benefits and risks that accompany every prescription. Both doctors and patients also need to pay attention to potential drug interactions.

Learning about Drug Interactions:

Dr. Altman describes the unusual computer analysis that he and his students employed to discover an unsuspected interaction between the cholesterol drug pravastatin (Pravachol) and the antidepressant paroxetine (Paxil). This combination can raise blood sugar significantly. What other drug interactions are yet to be discovered?

Over-the-Counter Drugs:

When it comes to over-the-counter drugs, too many people assume they are perfectly safe. OTC medicines also have potential side effects and may interact with other medicines in dangerous ways. How can you find out more about the drugs you take on your own?

This Week's Guest:

Russ Altman, MD, PhD, is the Kenneth Fong Professor of Bioengineering, Genetics, Medicine, and Biomedical Data Science at Stanford University Medical School. He also holds a courtesy appointment in the Department of Computer Science.

Lab page at Stanford

The PharmGKB resource for pharmacogenomics

Paper on drug interaction discovery from FDA databases and electronic health records

Paper on interaction between paxil and pravastatin

Ted Talk on Drug Interactions

Ted Talk on Pharmacogenomics 

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