Supplements and Over-the-Counter Medications

Are you taking supplements or non-prescription medication, also known as over-the-counters (OTCs)? Talk to your pharmacist first.

Supplements and OTCs are not the same. Supplements include herbals, natural health products, vitamins such as vitamin D, and minerals such as calcium or iron. Over-the-counter medications are those available without a prescription and are typically associated with self-care for colds, flu, fever, and stomach/bowel symptoms, to name a few.

While often helpful in certain instances such as the management of minor and self-limiting symptoms, OTCs and supplements  may or may not be suitable for you, depending on your health conditions and the other medications you take. In addition, many OTCs contain a combination of up to five separate ingredients and are designed to conveniently treat multiple symptoms in one dose. Taking such multi-symptom products when you may not have all the symptoms at a given time exposes you to medications that are unnecessary and may interact with your prescription or other OTC medications.

Inappropriate use of over-the-counter medications and supplements may inadvertently introduce new health risks. Here’s how your pharmacist can help.

  • If you have kidney or liver problems: This may limit your ability to safely use certain over-the-counter medications or supplements. In some cases the dose may need to be adjusted. Your pharmacist can advise you.
  • If you are being treated with an anticoagulant: Many over-the-counter medications and supplements can have profoundly serious interactions that could land you in an emergency room. Your pharmacist is the best source for helping you select the appropriate non-prescription product (if any) for the symptoms you are trying to treat.
  • If you are selecting medications for your child: Providing your pharmacist with the age and weight of your child will help him or her determine the proper dose. With so many of today's medications pleasant-tasting, your pharmacist can also help you prevent accidental overdoses in your child by suggesting appropriate storage, dosage, and frequency.
  • Proper selection of drugs or supplements (or their avoidance): In order to select the best product for you, your pharmacist may ask questions about your symptoms and medical history. These may include allergies to medications, medical conditions, current medications including herbal or natural products, and past medications that you may have already tried for symptom relief. In some cases, your pharmacist may advise you to stay away from certain OTCs and supplements for a period of time to avoid drug-on-drug interactions.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women: In some cases, self-care measures that do not involve medications may be the best option. Certain supplements may be useful during pregnancy or breastfeeding when prescription or OTC medications are considered to be unsafe or ineffectual.

Your pharmacist will help evaluate the suitability of your supplement or over-the-counter medication. He or she may provide you with alternate suggestions and together you can decide on the best therapy for you.

Please note: The information provided on this site is not medical advice and is not intended to replace a consultation with your pharmacist or physician. If you have questions about your medication(s), or are experiencing a health concern, please talk to your pharmacist.

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