Drug Interactions (cont.)

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How do drug interactions occur?

There are several mechanisms by which drugs interact with other drugs, food, and other substances. An interaction can result when there is an increase or decrease in:

  1. the absorption of a drug into the body;

  2. distribution of the drug within the body;

  3. alterations made to the drug by the body (metabolism); and

  4. elimination of the drug from the body.

Most of the important drug interactions result from a change in the absorption, metabolism, or elimination of a drug. Drug interactions also may occur when two drugs that have similar (additive) effects or opposite (canceling) effects on the body are administered together. For example, there may be major sedation when two drugs that have sedation as side effects are given, for example, narcotics and antihistamines. Another source of drug interactions occurs when one drug alters the concentration of a substance that is normally present in the body. The alteration of this substance reduces or enhances the effect of another drug that is being taken. The drug interaction between warfarin (Coumadin) and vitamin K-containing products is a good example of this type of interaction. Warfarin acts by reducing the concentration of the active form of vitamin K in the body. Therefore, when vitamin K is taken, it reduces the effect of warfarin.

Change in absorption

Most drugs are absorbed into the blood and then travel to their site of action. Most drug interactions that are due to altered absorption occur in the intestine. There are various potential mechanisms through which the absorption of drugs can be reduced. These mechanisms include:

  1. an alteration in blood flow to the intestine;

  2. change in drug metabolism (breakdown) by the intestine;

  3. increased or decreased intestinal motility (movement);

  4. alterations in stomach acidity, and

  5. a change in the bacteria that reside in the intestine.

Drug absorption also can be affected if the drug's ability to dissolve (solubility) is changed by another drug or if a substance (for example, food) binds to the drug and prevents its absorption.

Change in drug metabolism and elimination

Most drugs are eliminated through the kidney in either an unchanged form or as a by-product that results from the alteration (metabolism) of the drug by the liver. Therefore, the kidney and the liver are very important sites of potential drug interactions. Some drugs are able to reduce or increase the metabolism of other drugs by the liver or their elimination by the kidney.

Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

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