These Pill Interactions Can Kill You

Your medicine cabinet may be hiding the biggest health danger in your home...

If you've been reading Retirement Millionaire Daily, you're familiar with the risks of taking certain over-the-counter pain relievers and dietary supplements on their own.

But if you're taking a prescription medication, you're at even greater risk of a dangerous... even deadly... drug interaction.

A new study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that 25% of seniors don't report all of the medications they use (including supplements) to their doctors.

What these folks don't realize is that supplements can have serious... potentially fatal... interactions with other drugs.

For example, popular supplement St. John's wort makes many drugs less effective. When taken with cancer drug panobinostat, the cancer drug loses 70% of its effectiveness. This is so extreme that it can lead to treatment failure.

Calcium supplements are popular in seniors (especially women). But if you're also taking diuretics, you're increasing your risk of kidney damage.

All told, 15% of older Americans are at risk of potentially fatal drug interactions.

A major source of the problem is that seniors' use of five or more medications (including supplements) increased from 53% to 67% over the five-year study period.

If you're not keeping track of your pills and fully disclosing your usage to your doctor, there's a good chance you don't know what risks interactions present.

(Consumer Reports has a good table showing interactions between popular supplements and medications.)

Prescription medications can have dangerous interactions, too – especially if you have multiple doctors prescribing you medication. Popular cholesterol drug Lipitor reacts badly with psoriasis drug cyclosporine. It can result in severe muscle damage.

A review of reported problems found 1,500 known interactions between drugs and supplements. And that's only for the ingredients listed in drug databases.

The full list appeared in the International Journal of Clinical Practice (table four). But the top prescription medications with the most interactions were:

  • Warfarin
  • Insulin
  • Aspirin
  • Digoxin
  • Ticlipidine

And the top five supplements were:

  • St. John's wort
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Ginko biloba

If you're taking any of these medications, make sure to check with your doctor(s) about any interactions. A good way to start that conversation is preparation...

First, I encourage you to look up any potential interactions.

Websites like RxList and Medscape have comprehensive programs to check all of your pills at once. Type in the name of each of your medications, supplements, and even foods you commonly eat (like grapefruit juice) and check the interactions. If you experience any troubling health symptoms, print out the interaction list and question your doctor or pharmacist about it.

Remember though, not all the drugs you take appear in these databases. Drug-checking programs often don't include popular supplements with multiple ingredients. Look up each ingredient listed for possible interactions.

Second, the best way to protect your health is to know exactly what you're taking. Keep a list of everything you take – including supplements, vitamins, and herbal remedies. The list should include:

  • Name of drug
  • Color and shape of pill
  • Dosage
  • Date filled/purchased
  • When you take it/how often
  • Prescribing physician

Give this list to each of your doctors as well as a family member. And keep a copy with you in your wallet or purse. If you're tech-savvy, apps like MediSafe can keep all of that information on your smartphone as well.

Don't be part of the 15% at risk. Always check with your doctor before starting a new pill or supplement. Make sure you know exactly what you're taking and why.

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