How To Properly Use Over-The-Counter Medications and Supplements

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It’s no secret that medications play a huge role in health care. For as long as people have roamed this Earth, medications, in the form of herbs, pastes, mixtures, pills and more, have been utilized by health care professionals to provide our bodies and minds relief from ailments of all types.

While medications are undoubtedly helpful to many, as with most medical interventions, there are risks associated with using them.

“It is your doctor’s job, along with your pharmacist, to know ­what medicines you can take based on your health background,” explains White-Wilson Family Medicine physician, Dr. Kirk Garcia-Rios. “This is why prescriptions are thoroughly reviewed at doctor’s visits. We are looking for potential causes of issues that have arisen as well possible negative interactions that could occur if we introduce a new medication. This is also why you should mention to your doctor if you take any over-the-counter (OTC) medications or supplements.”

According to Dr. Garcia-Rios, OTC medications are those reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration and determined to be “safe and effective for use by the general public without seeking treatment by a health professional.” These medications tend to treat easily identifiable ailments such as headaches, stomach aches and coughs and, when their directional label is followed precisely, have little risk for adverse side effects.

Supplements, such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids and enzymes, on the other hand are not reviewed for safety or effectiveness by the FDA prior to being sold. This is purely up to the manufacturers. The FDA can step in if the supplement is found to be unsafe or the manufacturers are making false medical claims, but until that point, they really have little control over their sale and marketing.

“Both OTC medications and supplements have their uses,” says Dr. Garcia-Rios. “Doctors often recommend them to patients and in many cases, you can use them with little to no adverse reactions. However, if you don’t have a set of medically-trained eyes looking at these meds before patients buy them, there is a chance that important information could be missed.”

“For example,” he continues, “if you are on certain blood thinners, you cannot take aspirin, an OTC medication. Or you could be already on a prescribed medication that contains the same active ingredients as an OTC medication, which could ultimately lead to too much of that ingredient in your system and result in damage to your organs. The same can happen with supplements. It is possible to have too much of a particular vitamin or mineral and that can cause serious problems. Consulting with your doctor or your pharmacist can lower the likelihood of this happening.”

In addition to consulting a medical professional before beginning a new OTC medication or supplement, Dr. Garcia-Rios emphasizes that you should also consult a doctor if the use of an OTC medication or supplement doesn’t seem to be working like it should. This will also reduce the risk of overuse and, likely, give your health care provider an opportunity to discover the underlying root of the issue and get you on your way to feeling better.

“And finally,” says Dr. Garcia-Rios, “remember to never take a prescription medication that’s not prescribed to you personally by a doctor who has evaluated your health. Not only is this potentially against the law, but it is also extremely reckless for the reasons I mentioned before. You do not know how this medication will affect you, if you are allergic to it or if it will interact with your other medications, all of which can possibly result in severe or deadly outcomes.”

“Prescription-level medications should only be provided by your personal physician,” he concludes. “If there is a medication you want to try, but your physician won’t prescribe it, there is likely a good reason behind it. And don’t forget, you are always welcome to seek a second opinion, just be prepared for the same outcome if using that medication will put your life in danger.”

The providers at White-Wilson Medical Center recommend that you bring a list of your medications with you to each visit, especially your annual wellness visit. This allows us to ensure your patient record is up-to-date so we can provide the care that is right for you.

Kirk Garcia-Rios, DO is board-certified by the American Osteopathic Board of Family Physicians and has more than 15 years of experience caring patients at both military and civilian medical practices. Dr. Garcia-Rios is now accepting new patients at the White-Wilson Family Medicine Clinic in Fort Walton Beach.