For most of us the silly season often involves later nights and overdoing the Christmas cheer, particularly when you add an overseas trip into the mix.
NPS MedicineWise has some tips to help you make the most of your end of year trip while staying healthy and taking your medicines safely.
It’s not all ‘bah humbug’ — taking steps to not have too much of a good thing does not have to leave you feeling deprived.
The most obvious way to avoid health problems is to ‘eat, drink and be merry’ in moderation.
Your waistline and your liver will thank you.
For some of us controlling what foods we eat and our meal and alcohol portions is critical in maintaining our health and taking medicines safely.
For example, if you take warfarin (a medicine that helps prevent blood clots) you need to be consistent with the types of foods and amounts you eat, and the amount of alcohol you drink. If you make drastic changes to your diet or drinking habits on a day-to-day basis, you need to have blood tests to ensure warfarin works safely and effectively — not something you can easily do on holiday.
If you have diabetes you also need to be extra cautious to maintain your blood glucose levels and take your medicines, especially insulin, at the right times.
Alcohol decreases the amount of blood glucose, and increases the chance of low glucose levels (hypoglycaemia or ‘hypos’). This is because the body, especially the liver, needs to break down the alcohol, and while it is processing the alcohol, the liver won’t release any glucose into the blood. This can lead to very low blood glucose levels.
Being with family and friends overseas can often entail nights (and days) when you might have a few too many drinks.
Indulge but try limiting your alcohol intake to no more than two standard drinks a day. This amount goes for both men and women.
Sticking to this amount not only helps prevent the short-term health problems of a drinking session — such as acute alcohol poisoning, accidents and injuries, and other negative consequences such as sexual assault — but it also reduces your lifetime risk of alcohol-related disease or injury.
Drinking four standard drinks on a single occasion more than doubles the chance of injury in the following six hours, and this rises even further if you drink more than this.
Not exceeding this amount in one occasion is particularly important if you’re supervising children, or will be involved in risky activities such as driving, or recreational water or snow activities. Young adults (aged 18–25 years) and older people should also take special care as they may be at higher risk of alcohol-related injury.
Alcohol can increase the drowsiness or dizziness caused by some medicines and may make it harder for you to think clearly, affect your co-ordination (which may increase your chance of falling or having an accident), or impair your ability to drive or operating machinery.
Many types of medicines can be affected by alcohol in this way. Common examples include:
It’s important to know that it takes at least several hours for alcohol to be removed from the body. For this reason you may not only be affected when you consume medicines and alcohol at the same time, but also at any time that you have a significant amount of alcohol left in your body.
For most medicines that interact with alcohol, you don’t have to avoid alcohol completely. But some medicines are affected by alcohol in different ways. This means you may need to avoid alcohol completely while taking certain medicines. For instance, some antibiotics might make you very ill if you drink alcohol while taking them.
Find out more about whether alcohol will affect your antibiotics
Choose the right pain relief
Headaches caused by hangovers may see us taking pain relievers more often over the festive season. So now’s not the time to forget that pain relievers are medicines too with both benefits and risks.
Pain relievers you buy over the counter in a pharmacy, supermarket or other store are generally safe to take, but there can be serious consequences if they:
Taking more than the recommended dose doesn’t mean the medicine will be more effective — in fact, it could do your body some serious damage.
For example paracetamol, the active ingredient in pain reliever brands like Panadol, can cause liver damage and even death if you take more than the recommended dose.
Pain relievers that contain aspirin or another anti-inflammatory medicine (NSAID) such as ibuprofen can cause stomach upset, heartburn or indigestion, and sometimes more serious side effects like stomach bleeding or kidney problems. NSAIDs can also trigger asthma in some people.
Taking aspirin or another NSAID for more than a few days at a time, taking more than the recommended dose, or taking these medicines if you drink alcohol, can increase your chance of side effects. Problems are also more likely to occur if you:
If any of these apply to you or if you have asthma, check with your doctor or pharmacist first about which pain reliever is safest for you.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist whether changes in your diet or drinking may affect your medicines.
If you drink alcohol, plan some alcohol-free days each week. Aim to drink no more than two standard drinks per day to reduce your risk of alcohol-related disease or injury.
If you decide to drink more than this on any one occasion, limiting your alcohol intake to no more than four standard drinks will reduce your risk of an alcohol-related injury arising from that drinking session. You may find it helpful to alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to limit how much you drink.
If you’re unsure whether alcohol affects your medicine, look for a red warning sticker on the packaging, read the consumer medicines information (CMI) leaflet for the medicine, or ask your doctor or pharmacist.
To ask questions about your medicines call NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) from anywhere in Australia for the cost of a local phone call (excluding mobiles; Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm AEST).
This article is supplied by NPS MedicineWise, providing independent information on medicines and medical tests, funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing.
If you have questions about your medicines, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or call the NPS MedicinesLine 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424). Learn more about medicine and medical tests at their website http://www.nps.org.au/
For more top tips about travel and medicines visit NPS MedicineWise.
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