Section: Barnabas Health News

Medications: Understanding the Risks


We don't need a health care provider's prescription to buy over-the-counter (OTC) medications, but this doesn’t mean they are risk-free. It’s just as important to carefully follow instructions when taking OTC drugs as it is when you take prescribed medication.

Some OTC medications pose risks for people with certain medical conditions and for pregnant women. Some drugs can cause reactions when mixed with other medications or certain foods or drinks. You may face other risks if you: take too much medication, use the medication for too long a period of time and/or use the medication in the wrong way.

Pharmacists at the Barnabas Health Retail Pharmacies share what you need to know about the most common types of OTC medicines.

Pain relievers
OTC pain relievers are typically used for mild pain or fever. Acetaminophen is one active ingredient in common pain relievers. Other pain relievers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, include, aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium.

These drugs are generally safe and free of side effects, but if not used correctly, they can cause the following problems:

  • Taking too much acetaminophen can cause liver damage.
  • Ibuprofen and naproxen can cause kidney damage or stomach bleeding in certain situations.
  • Aspirin increases the risk for an illness called Reye syndrome in children and teens with fever or the flu.

Most problems caused by laxatives are because of overuse. Generally, OTC laxatives are not recommended for people with mild constipation. If you have long-term constipation, your health care provider may recommend a laxative for a short period of time.

If you use a laxative often, you may become dependent on laxatives to have a bowel movement. You may also need to take more and more laxatives to get the same results.

Heartburn remedies
Traditional OTC drugs for heartburn are antacids with familiar household names. They work by canceling the effects of acid in the stomach. Newer remedies, such as H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors, stop the acid from being made.

Traditional antacids are usually made up of a combination of salts. These can cause diarrhea or constipation in some people and may also keep some prescription medications from being absorbed into your body. The H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitor drugs usually don’t cause these issues, but they don't work for everyone and they can cause reactions with some prescription medications.

It’s important to note that you should connect with your physician about any new, recurrent or persistent medical symptoms.

For more information about OTCs, talk to your local pharmacist. Pharmacists at Barnabas Health Retail Pharmacies at Barnabas Health Ambulatory Care Center, Livingston; Clara Maass Medical Center, Belleville; Jersey City Medical Center, Jersey City; Monmouth Medical Center, Long Branch; and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, Newark are also available to answer any questions you may have. To speak to a pharmacist at any of these locations, call:

  • Barnabas Health Retail Pharmacy at Barnabas Health Ambulatory Care Center: 973-322-7315
  • Barnabas Health Retail Pharmacy at Clara Maass Medical Center: 973-450-2581
  • Barnabas Health Retail Pharmacy at Jersey City Medical Center: 201-915-2166
  • Barnabas Health Retail Pharmacy at Monmouth Medical Center: 732-923-6111
  • Barnabas Health Retail Pharmacy at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center: 973-926-7422
  • Barnabas Health Retail Pharmacy at Saint Barnabas Medical Center: 973-322-2445
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