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People's Pharmacy

Learn Drug and Dose Listed in Prescription

November 23, 1998|JOE GRAEDON and TERESA GRAEDON

Question: At my annual checkup, the doctor found my cholesterol to be too high. He called in a prescription of 40 milligrams of Pravachol. The instructions on the pill container were, "Take one tablet after meals."

After several days I was feeling very tense, dizzy and listless. My doctor said to try it a few more days.

When I got worse, I checked with the pharmacist and discovered that he had put the wrong instructions on the bottle. The doctor meant for me to take one tablet after the evening meal. Instead of 40 milligrams a day, I was getting 120 milligrams.

Now I need liver tests. I am also suffering from noises in both ears--ringing that causes me sleepless nights. Could an overdose of Pravachol trigger ringing in the ears?

Answer: Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) was not reported in clinical tests of Pravachol, but no one took such a high dose. Medicines similar to Pravachol can cause cranial nerve problems, which might lead to tinnitus.

Your horror story demonstrates the danger of having a prescription called in to the pharmacy. We urge People's Pharmacy readers to know precisely what drug is prescribed at what dose, and then double-check the prescription to make sure it is filled properly.


Q: My husband read that an aspirin a day could prevent heart attacks. He's overweight, doesn't exercise and thought aspirin would protect him. He has high blood pressure and takes atenolol.

Aspirin upset his stomach so he switched to coated aspirin. His doctor prescribed Prilosec for heartburn, but my husband landed in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer. How could just one coated aspirin a day do that? What information do you have on aspirin?

A: Aspirin is a wonder drug that can reduce the risk of heart attacks. But although it is available without a prescription, aspirin shouldn't be taken on a daily basis unless a doctor supervises.

Coated aspirin is made to resist stomach acid and be absorbed in the small intestine. Prilosec, Prevacid and similar drugs can reduce acidity, thus "tricking" the coating into dissolving in the stomach. This could lead to stomach irritation or even a bleeding ulcer.

Aspirin may reduce benefits of some blood pressure medicines, including beta blockers like atenolol and ACE inhibitors like Vasotec. Because it is a lifesaver, no one should stop aspirin a physician has recommended. Low doses (below 100 milligrams) may be less likely to interact.


Q: Please help me! I am not a good pill-taker, so the pill has to be small. Actron was perfect for my arthritis pain. I can't find it anywhere in Illinois, Wisconsin or Florida. Did they stop making it?

A: We contacted the manufacturer and learned that it has halted production of Actron (ketoprofen). The pain reliever market is extremely competitive and Actron never really caught on.

The identical drug is still available as Orudis KT. Unfortunately, the pill is substantially larger than Actron.

Readers have provided us with many pill-swallowing tactics. You might want to try popping the pill into your mouth and then drinking fizzy water out of a narrow-necked bottle. The sucking motion supposedly makes it easier to get the pill down.


Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Send questions to them at People's Pharmacy, care of King Features Syndicate, 235 E. 45th St., New York, NY 10017, or e-mail them via their Web site:

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