November 28, 2011

Checking Out Your Meds: A Few Tips

Last week, I talked about the surprising things I learned about the standard Parkinson's med Azilect, after some belated research. This prescription drug, which costs nearly $4000 a year, comes with a long list of medicines, supplements and foods to avoid or use with caution. Who knew? Perhaps the information appears in the tiny-print notice inside the box... info I'd bet most users can't -- or won't -- read. And I certainly can't expect my neurologist or pharmacist to warn me about the potentially harmful combinations that my research uncovered.

My experience with Azilect wasn't unique; I checked my other meds and found similar cautions I hadn't known about.

All of us -- especially seniors and  people with serious chronic illnesses -- should learn more about the drugs we take. Chances are we're using a variety of drugs, which increases the likelihood of adverse reactions.

Suggestions for Online Research of Meds
Starting places for searches on your drugs
In last week's post, I said my favorite starting place for research was the "Drugs and Supplements A-Z" section of the Health Information provided by the Mayo Clinic. See

I checked with my daughter who researches and writes professionally about health care issues (and always amazes the family with her wealth of knowledge). She said she preferred starting with several government sites. I think she's got it right. Here they are:

  • This is a better starting place than the Mayo Clinic page. It provides all of the information found on Mayo... and more. For example, NIH's Medline Plus link provides an introductory warning about dietary issues, including foods with large amounts of tyramine (which was not covered in the Mayo report).
  • Find the "Additional Resources" heading in the column on the left side. Check out "Search PubMed articles." Also, take a look at "Recent Major Changes" at the bottom of the page. (I've found this resource more useful than Google for recent info.)
  • This is an excellent Food and Drug Administration site that provides lots of helpful information. For example, under "Resources for You" on the left, click on "General information for consumers (Drugs)" and check out the subtopics such as "tips for seniors." The central part of the FDA page has links for finding information about specific drugs, including recently-issued safety alerts and advisories.
Web sites for additional information
Here are a few other sites I've found useful:
  • This site includes drug label and prescribing information (description, indications, side effects, warnings, clinical pharmacology, etc), published studies, current clinical trials, drug ratings and reviews by patients, adverse event reports by medical professionals, alerts, and more.
  • I include this link because it appears to be the most popular website on drug information. Its home page touts "free, peer-reviewed, accurate and independent data on more than 24,000 prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines and natural products. Find helpful tools, wallet size personal medication records, mobile applications and more." (Hmm. I just noticed that mention of "wallet-size medication records." I'll check it out.)
  • When I use Google to search for reports or reviews on a drug or supplement, often one of the first hits is this site, which is well-regarded for its independent reviews of popular meds and herbal supplements.
When I have a specific issue or symptom -- and wonder if it's related to something I'm taking -- I'll use Google. For example, a search using some of the sites above made me wonder if my recent blood pressure spikes were related to the Azilect I'm taking. I did a Google search using "azilect and blood pressure spiking" and discovered that there was a clear possiblility, which I'll mention to my internist and neurologist.

Do you have any resources for meds you find helpful? I'd love to hear from you.

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