Drugs and Supplements

Taking medications correctly requires clear communication

David Scales, MPhil, MD, PhD

Taking medications incorrectly means that patients don’t get the full benefit of the drugs and may experience unnecessary (or unnecessarily severe) side effects. The result can even cause a simple ailment to turn into a hospital stay. It’s essential that patients understand when to take their medications, and why they’re taking them in the first place. This understanding relies heavily on successful communication between patients and their doctors. Gaps, such as language barriers, can be bridged in a number of ways.

Is aspirin a wonder drug?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

People at high risk for heart problems are often prescribed a daily low-dose aspirin, but many more people who could benefit from taking aspirin do not do so. A recent analysis suggests that for people ages 51 to 79 in the United States, regular low-dose aspirin can help reduce rates of heart disease and some cancers as well as save substantial health care dollars.

Vitamin D: What’s the “right” level?

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

Agreement on the adequate level of vitamin D is difficult to come by in the medical community, with respected organizations offering widely divergent guidelines on how much is enough for most people. All that said, most experts agree that doctors should be checking vitamin D levels in high-risk people — those most at risk for a true deficiency.

Can genetic testing help determine the best medications for you?

Shannon Manzi, PharmD
Shannon Manzi, PharmD, Contributor

The use of pharmacogenomics, the study of how a person’s genes affect the body’s metabolizing of medications, can help doctors predict if a person will have a negative reaction to a particular medication, or whether one drug may provide better results than another. However, this information is just one piece of the puzzle when trying to help find the medication that will provide the greatest benefit with the fewest side effects.

Anti-inflammatory medications and the risk for cardiovascular disease: A new study, a new perspective

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

The results of a large study of the anti-inflammatory medication celecoxib in people with arthritis and increased risk for cardiovascular disease are changing previously held beliefs regarding the drug raising the risk of heart attack or stroke.

The latest on glucosamine/chondroitin supplements

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Despite a lack of conclusive evidence, millions of Americans take glucosamine, chondroitin, or both for joint protection or relief from arthritis pain. While these supplements are considered safe, they are not regulated the way prescription drugs are and can cause side effects.

Is there a way to lower the cost of an EpiPen?

Celia Smoak Spell
Celia Smoak Spell, Assistant Editor, Harvard Health Publications

The lifesaving medication contained in an EpiPen is not expensive; the high cost is due mainly to the injector. Competing devices have not been successful so far, and no generic alternative is yet available. Finding ways to mandate that insurance fully cover the medication may not really bring the price down.

When do you really need antibiotics for that sinus infection?

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

Many people with sinus infections expect to be given antibiotics for treatment, but in most cases the infection will improve on its own. If a person’s symptoms meet certain criteria — for example, when colorful nasal discharge and facial pressure and pain last for more than 10 days — then antibiotics are recommended.

2 simple ways to ensure you give your kids the right dose of medicine (lots of parents don’t)

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

It’s surprisingly easy to give a child an incorrect dosage of liquid medication, and many parents do. When giving medication to a child, be sure you understand the instructions and use a medication syringe rather than a dosing cup. Take the extra time to read and think, and ask questions. These simple steps can make all the difference.

MRSA: The not-so-famous superbug

Michaela Kane
Michaela Kane, Contributor

The MRSA bacteria is not uncommon, and people can become seriously ill when MRSA infections go unchecked. Unfortunately, MRSA can be particularly difficult to treat because it easily adapts to become resistant to antibiotics. Although these infections occur primarily in hospitals, they can also occur in close or crowded conditions where it’s possible to come in contact with an infected wound, or if personal items are shared. Signs of MRSA should be reported to your doctor right away. Luckily, careful hygiene and hand washing can help you avoid this troublesome infection.