Vitality - Healthy Aging NewsletterFall 2011

Review Your Medications Regularly

Do you know what medications you're taking, and why? Are you taking the correct dosages at the proper times?

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Are you aware that even the cold medicine you buy at the drugstore can compound the side effects of your prescription medication?

Being savvy about our medications is crucial as we get older. "You may be taking one you no longer need, not taking one that could benefit your health, or taking multiple medications that combine to cause harmful interactions and side effects," says Group Health pharmacist Jilene Winther.

That's why it's recommended that you schedule a review with your doctor once a year. Bring all your prescription medicine, vitamins, herbs, and any other remedies. Algo bring a record of what time you take each of these and any side effects you've experienced.

"One reason we recommend an annual review is because there is always new information regarding safety and appropriate use," says Winther. "For example, we used to say that 3,000 to 4,000 milligrams of acetaminophen (Tylenol) per day was within safe limits for an extended period of time. Now we find it's best to take only 2,000 milligrams a day to protect against liver damage."

Adhering to the correct dosage requires reading labels carefully. For example, acetaminophen is found in Nyquil, and both acetaminophen and diphenhydramine (Benadryl) are found in Tylenol PM.

Looking for safer alternatives is also high on Winther's checklist. "Benadryl is a good example of a high-risk medication because it can cause drowsiness," she says. "If you combine that with another medication with the same side effect, you could end up losing your balance and falling. A better choice would be a non-sedating antihistamine like Zyrtec (cetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine), Claritin (loratadine), or others."

Because many over-the-counter medications have side effects that are particularly hazardous for the older population (ibuprofen may cause stomach ulcers along with swelling and fluid retention in people with heart disease), it's important to check with your doctor or pharmacist first. Checking before taking new medicines — plus a review once a year — will ensure that you continue to take your medications safely.

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