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Those information inserts aren't just for making paper airplanes

Flying Life Preserver For HelpWhenever you fill a prescription, it comes nicely packaged in a white paper bag with your receipt stapled on top. Inside, in addition to your medication, there will be two or three neatly folded pages of information.

Or buy a medication off the shelf. It could be for cold and flu, allergies, or muscle pain – it doesn’t really matter. The package includes a little paper insert, crammed with blocks of text few of us can read without squinting, or reaching for a magnifying glass.

Whether it’s the pharmacist’s information package, or that little paper insert, how often do you actually take the time to read it?

Be honest. Most of the time, we pop that pill with a swallow of water and get on with our lives.

We run with whatever the pharmacist told us during the consult at the counter or the basic dosage information on the bottle.

Often, that’s enough. But unless you are an experienced pharmacologist or medical doctor, how can you be sure that you are taking the medication safely and appropriately? With any medication, whether it’s by prescription or not, there is almost always some risk of side effects. These include the risk of a harmful interaction with another medication, or even food.

Remember grapefruit juice?

A few years back, we had the health scare about the risks of drinking grapefruit juice with some prescription medications.

The issue rested with chemicals in the grapefruit and some other citrus fruits that can interfere with how the body breaks down and absorbs the medication. At best, this might make the medication less effective. At worst, it could allow the medication to build up in your body to dangerous levels and increase the risk of other harmful side effects.

This makes certain citrus fruits a bad choice to drink/eat with various medications to fight infection, reduce cholesterol, treat high blood pressure and heart problems, and prevent organ rejection in transplant recipients.

It’s always best to assume nothing about the medications you take.

Case in point

We have a patient at our Kanata chiropractic clinic who had been taking a heartburn medication for the past 20 years. He came to suffer symptoms that were diagnosed as possible neuropathy.
Neuropathy – more specifically, peripheral neuropathy – typically results from damage to the peripheral nerves. These are the nerves throughout your body to which signals are relayed to and from the brain via the spinal cord. Neuropathy often causes weakness, numbness, pain, and reduced function in different parts of the body, most often in the hands and feet.

This condition can arise from traumatic injuries, infections, metabolic problems, inherited causes, and exposure to toxins. One of the most common causes is diabetes. It can also arise from lifestyle habits, such as alcoholism.

All of which makes it easy to understand why our patient found this diagnosis alarming.
He brought this up with his pharmacist and they talked about that heartburn medication. It turned out that neuropathy is a known side effect and that he should have stopped taking the medication after five years!

What you should always do

This patient’s case should serve as a wake-up call for all of us. To which we offer the following:

  • Always ask about potential drug and food interactions with any medication you are taking.
  • Consult with your doctor or pharmacist immediately if you experience any unusual symptoms upon starting a new medication.
  • Avoid falling into the rut of routine – it’s wise to periodically revisit why you are taking a certain medication. Does it still make sense to continue taking it in light of changes to your health, other medications you are taking, or the availability of new treatment options? Have this conversation at least once a year with your family doctor and pharmacist.
  • And lastly, read that paper insert that comes with the medication!

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