Thursday, October 20, 2005
Know these side effects of prescription drugs
By Dr. Anthony Policastro
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital

Prescription medication is part of most visits to physicians. Sometimes it is just a renewal of an old prescription. Sometimes it is a new drug. There are certain things that we should know whenever a new drug is prescribed. Sometimes those are covered by the physician. Sometimes, they are not. Usually when they are not, it is because they are not felt to be important. However, the patient should always make sure that they know about the medication that they are taking. For that reason, there are some questions that patients should get used to asking for any new medication. The first question has to do with side effects. All medications can have side effects. Some have more than others. Some side effects are more common than others. Knowing in advance that a medication causes side effects helps to deal with them when they occur. For example, I recently took a course of antibiotics. I knew that they could upset my stomach. The stomach upset for the first three days was pretty significant. If I did not know to expect that, I might have thought I had an ulcer or some other intestinal problem. If someone else had the same pain for the same reason, they might figure it was a side effect. They might call the doctor back. They might go to the ER. For those reasons, it is important to ask what the common side effects are to any new medication. A side effect is not an allergic reaction. Those are less predictable. A second question is what role food might play. Some drugs are absorbed from the intestine into the blood stream better with food. Some are absorbed better with milk. Some are absorbed worse with food. In most cases, it does not matter a lot. However, it is usually best to take medication on an empty stomach so that you can get the best absorption into the blood stream. It is also a good idea to take it at the same time so that the absorption is similar with each dose. A third question should be whether the drug will have any interaction with other drugs that you are taking. If you use the same pharmacy for all of your prescriptions, they will have a record of what other medications you are taking. They should tell you if there is a reaction. However, it would be better to know that before you left the physician's office. That will decrease delays in getting your prescription filled. A fourth question should be whether the drug will interact with any herbal products that you take. People have a tendency to think that herbal remedies are not drugs. That is not true. They may come in a different form than the typical prescription. However, they still get absorbed into the blood stream as a drug. They still interact with other drugs. They can still result in serious reactions. In the past I have listed some of the common interactions. The most common one is the fact that the prescription drug Coumadin reacts with many herbal products to cause increase bleeding problems. If your doctor prescribes Coumadin make sure you let him/her know what herbal remedies you are using. Along the same lines, prescribed drugs may interact with over the counter medications that you take. You need to make sure that this will not happen when you are prescribed a new medication. It is a good idea to make a list of these questions. You can then get used to asking them with each new prescription that you get. The estimate is that about one out of every 200 prescriptions will result in a serious reaction of some sort. You can decrease those odds by making sure all your questions are answered before you start taking a medication.

Dr. Antony Policastro is medical director at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital.

Nanticoke Memorial Hospital offers flu shots Oct. 25, 27
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital will be offering flu shots to the public on Tuesday, Oct. 25 (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) and Thursday, Oct. 27 (3-7p.m.) in the Nanticoke Stein Highway building next to County Bank. There will be 500 doses per day allotted. The cost of the vaccination will be $10. The vaccine is not recommended for anyone under the age of 18. The influenza vaccine is recommended for elderly and high-risk individuals. Healthy working adults may also benefit from the influenza. Large outbreaks of influenza usually do not occur before December in the USA and reach a peak between late December and early March and many continue into the spring. For additional information contact Nanticoke Memorial Hospital at 629-6611, extension 8784. No appointment or pre-registration is required.