Saturday, September 13, 2008

Be aware of the medications that your care recipient is taking

My dad had an appointment with his doctor in town the other day, and she gave him a prescription for a medication that she thought might help alleviate the pain he felt in his left arm and leg. It was a good effort, and one that I felt was well worth testing out - until I got the medication from the pharmacy and was able to look up what the side effects were for it.

I won't name the medication specifically, but I will note that one of the side effects on the pharmacy handout was suicidal thoughts. My mental brakes went on right there and I decided that was probably not something I want my dad to be taking, so I did some more research into the medication.

Common reactions, according to Epocrates Online, include:

Hostility
Tremor
Abnormal thinking
Accidental injury

Okay, there were a lot more, but I think that is enough to make me shy away from giving that medication to my dad as a test 'just to see if it helps the nerve pain he's feeling'. Add in that it has an interaction with the pain medication that he is taking that may lessen the effectiveness of that pain medication, and the "caution in elderly patients" warning I found at Epocrates Online, and I called back the doctor's office and told the nurse that I was not going to be giving him the medication until after I had consulted the doctor once again.

I'm glad that there are sites such as Epocrates Online where I can check for medication interactions and side effects, since the handouts that I get from the pharmacy are just the basics about medications. A few of them I had not even known what time of the day they should be taken, when later on I discovered that it does make a difference in the time the medicine is taken.

Intended for clinicians, the Epocrates Online website is also a very valuable resource for family caregivers wanting to make sure that the medications their care recipients get are not going to have adverse interactions with medications they are already prescribed.

Since my dad recently quit smoking, medications for stopping smoking are one of the things I have been looking at for helping make it easier for him and my mom, so being able to look up things such as Chantix and find out what the common and possible serious side effects of them are before considering them as a medication that my parents should be taking as a stop smoking aid. In the case of Chantix, I know that it would be a bad choice for my dad because of serious reactions such as anemia, GI bleed, and depression / suicidality.

I understand that you can not expect drugs not to have some kind of side effects and serious potential reactions, however, it is better in my experience to know what those potential side effects are and in particular what interactions the drug has with other drugs. Particularly when, like with my dad, there are multiple doctors that have written prescriptions for a variety of conditions.

This announcement was paid for by Epocrates. And while this is a paid posting, it is also a very important issue that I feel every family caregiver needs to be aware of and take the extra step it requires to get to know what their care recipient's medications are and what interactions they have with other medications. It takes only a few moments to check new prescriptions at Epocrates Online, but those few minutes could be the few that make all the difference.

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