When your doctor pulls out his/her prescription pad, you probably assume that your health problem will be soon be improving. Sure, there may be a side effect or two-perhaps an occasional upset stomach or a mild headache. But overall you will be better off, right?

Not necessarily. While it's true that many drugs can help relieve symptoms and sometimes even cure certain medical conditions, a number of popular medications actually cause disease-not simply side effects-while treating the original problem.

Here's what happens: Your kidney and liver are the main organs that break down drugs and eliminate them from your body. But these organs weaken as you age. Starting as early as your 20s and 30s, you lose 1% of liver and kidney function every year. As a result, drugs can build up in your body (particularly if you take more than one), become toxic, damage crucial organs such as the heart and brain-and trigger disease, such as diabetes.

Older adults are at greatest risk for this problem because the body becomes increasingly less efficient at metabolizing drugs with age. But no one is exempt from the risk.

Many commonly prescribed drugs increase risk for type 2 diabetes. These medications include statins...beta-blockers...antidepressants...antipsychotics...steroids...and alpha blockers prescribed for prostate problems and high blood pressure.

Safer alternatives to discuss with your doctor, consultant pharmacist or other health-care professional...

If you're prescribed a beta-blocker: Ask about using a calcium-channel blocker instead. Diltiazem (Tiazac) has the fewest side effect. The 24-hour sustained-release dose provides the best control.

If you're prescribed an antidepressant: Ask about venlafaxine (Effexor), a selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SSNRI) antidepressant that treats depression and anxiety and has been shown to cause fewer problems for diabetic patients than any of the older selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs.

If you're prescribed an alpha-blocker: For prostate problems, rather than taking the alpha-blocker tamsulosin (Flomax), ask about using dutasteride (Avodart) or finasteride (Proscar). For high blood pressure, ask about a calcium-channel blocker drug.

The Very Best Drug Self-Defense

If you're over age 60-especially if you take more than one medication or suffer drug side effects-it's a good idea to ask your physician to work with a consulting pharmacist who is skilled in medication management. A consulting pharmacist has been trained in drug therapy management and will work with your physician to develop a drug management plan that will avoid harmful drugs. These services are relatively new and may not be covered by insurance, so be sure to check with your provider.

To find a consulting pharmacist in your area, go to the website of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, www.ascp.com, and click on "Find a Senior Care Pharmacist."

Also Helpful: Make sure that a drug you've been prescribed does not appear on the "Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults." Originally developed by the late Mark Beers, editor of the Merck Manual of Medical Information, the list has been recently updated by The American Geriatrics Society. To download the list for free, go to www.geriatricscareonline.org and click on "Clinical Guidelines & Recommendations."

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in