As a pharmacist this is a question that we get asked very often – so let me explain.

What are medicine interactions?

Anytime you take more than one medication, or even mix it with some foods, drinks, or over-the-counter medicines, you are at risk of an interaction. Most interactions are not serious, but because a few are, it is important to understand the possible outcome before you take your medications. I will describe each type of interaction a bit further:

There are medicine-medicine interactions

These are the most common type of interaction. The more medications you take, the greater the chance of an interaction occurring. The interactions can decrease how well your medications work; may increase minor or serious unexpected side effects; or even increase the blood level and possible toxicity of a certain medicine. For example, if you take a strong pain medication, and a sedating antihistamine at the same time you will have an additive amount of drowsiness as both medications cause this side effect.

There are medicine-food/drink interactions

You have probably seen the stickers on your prescription box to “avoid grapefruit juice” at one time or another. This may seem odd, but certain medications can interact with foods or drinks. For example, grapefruit juice can lower the levels of enzymes in your liver responsible for breaking down medications. Blood levels of an interacting medicine may rise, leading to toxicity. This interaction can occur with the commonly used medicines to lower cholesterol - the result can be muscle pain, or even severe muscle injury known as rhabdomyolysis.

There are also medicine-disease interactions

Your existing medical condition can affect the way a medicine works, too. For example, over-the-counter oral decongestants used for sinus and cold symptoms may increase blood pressure and can be dangerous if you have high blood pressure.

How to avoid these interactions

Your Doctor

Make sure they are aware of all medications that you are taking no matter who has prescribed them, including natural medicines and over the counter medicines that you buy at a pharmacy. Make sure that they have a complete history of your health conditions.

Your Pharmacist

Always let your pharmacist know of all medications that you are taking. Most pharmacies have an app that you can use to keep a list of your medications & vitamins with you wherever you go. A pharmacist can provide you with a Medscheck – a private appointment where all of your medications are discussed & checked for safety and effectiveness. During the appointment any possible interactions are considered.

As a pharmacist it is my role to protect you from these interactions causing harm. It may seem that sometimes we ask a lot of questions, and that we are being “nosey”, but we simply want to help with your wellbeing.

If you are concerned about your medicines interacting, please do not stop taking them after reading this – but DO have a discussion with your pharmacist or doctor.

You can visit us at Valley Road Pharmacy in Devonport to have a chat with one of our pharmacists about your medications.

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