Is your doctor all too quick with a prescription pad? Too many Americans are relying on prescription drugs, say the experts — some patients demand drugs as a first response; others are persuaded by their doctors. So when should you try an intervening method before turning to drugs? Here are some safe guides (thanks to Consumer Reports
) to do just that — and fight 12 conditions faced by many in escalating numbers.
- Back pain, joint pain. The list for possible remedies seems endless: From nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) including aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and celecoxib (Celebrex); to prescription opioids, fentanyl (Actiq), hydromorphone (Vicodin), and oxycodone (OxyContin), choices can be mind-numbing. But sometimes, such pain is just nature's way of telling you you've overdone it. Try waiting a few days to see if the pain subsides. Gym injuries or a new activity can result in muscle aches and pains in unusual places and a few days to recoup is sometimes all that's necessary. After that, an OTC remedy is a good choice (ask your doctor if you have any doubts). Prescription opioids should be a last resort and only after careful consideration.
- Heartburn. Everyone has experienced the occasional heartburn associated with unusual foods, overeating, or late-night eating. Here again, nature is reminding you of your limits. Here are some smart ways to ward off heartburn: Eat smaller portions. You will have more energy and your stomach will thank you. Stay away from foods that you know will exacerbate the problem. But heartburn and acid reflux can cause eroding of the esophagus, so seek relief if the condition persists. OTC and prescription proton inhibitors can help; these include Nexium, Prevacid, and Prilosec. There are good reasons to use sparingly: they are linked to fractures, kidney problems, and even dementia.
- Insomnia. Occasional disruptions in sleep are part of life — restlessness and insomnia due to stress are inevitable. Try to manage them and cope with them as temporary. Sleeping pills have serious side effects, including addiction, so before embarking on a regimen, try sleeping on a consistent schedule. Make sure your room is dark, as lights can stimulate and disrupt your sleep/wake cycle. And try not to eat close to bedtime as this can cause a nagging upset stomach. Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided after the sun goes down. If these tips fail, try an OTC remedy first — melatonin is a great choice. Many people experience deep sleep with melatonin supplements. Sleep aid prescriptions, such as Ambien, Belsomra, and Lunesta, should be considered as a last resort. Impaired thinking, grogginess, and evewn sleep walking have been reported with drugs like these.
- Prehypertension. If your blood pressure is on the high end of normal, this is a term you are familiar with. Sometimes doctors are quick to prescribe ACE inhibitors (Lotensin, Zestril) calcium channel blockers (Norvasc), or diuretics ("water pills"). But ACE inhibitors can cause kidney problems and headaches. Diuretics can cause low potassium levels and erectile dysfunction. Calcium channel blockers can cause abnormal heartbeat and headaches. Bad food choices and being overweight are the usual culprits here. Get out and exercise and cut back on junk food. Your numbers will drop dramatically.
- Obesity. Losing weight is a very difficult endeavor — if there's any doubt, just turn on the TV to find a multibillion-dollar industry vying for your dollars offering everything from weight-loss pills to lotions, creams, and surgeries. Prescriptions abound as well: Belviq, Contrave, and Xenical are just a few. If a low-intake food regimen combined with exercise has not worked, ask your doctor for advice on programs and other measures. Side effects of prescriptions such as these can include suicidal thoughts, seizures, and high blood pressure.
- Prediabetes. This condition signals diabetes could be on the way if changes are not made — changes in weight and diet. The average American diet is heavily based on processed starchy foods and sugar-based choices, often resulting in serious weight gain. Blood-sugar-lowering drugs — think Actos and Glucophage — are the weapons of choice for doctors, but head off these drugs that can have weighty side effects (including shortness of breath and vision problems) by simply taking charge of your diet and exercising. Try cutting back on sugar and starches, including bread and processed pasta.
- Mild depression. Antidepressants — including Celexa, Cymbalta, Lexapro, and Prozac — are widely and quickly prescribed today. Therapy with a professional is seldom the first-line treatment — though many have had great success. The side effects of prescriptions — agitation, sexual dysfunction, suicidal thoughts — should be enough for everyone suffering from mild depression to at least try talk therapy.
- Low testosterone. Anti-aging clinics have been all the rage in recent years, and it's quickly caught on that supplementing men's health with the hormone leads to new vigor. But there are many side effects that go unreported in glitzy ads. The list includes sleep apnea, enlarged prostate, and increased risk of heart attack or stroke. That's an eye-opening resume. If diagnosed with low T, consider lifting weights. Testosterone gets a boost through weight training. If your diet is low in protein, consider boosting that as well. Sleep seven to eight hours per night. Explore these options first to see if you really need supplementation.
- Overactive bladder. In people with overactive bladder, muscles in the bladder wall contract at the wrong time. Before medications such as anticholinergics (Detrol, Oxytrol,) and beta-3 adrenergic agonists (Myrbetriq), which can have side effects such as constipation, dizziness, and increased risk of dementia, try bladder-training exercises. Scheduled voiding has you going at set times instead of when you feel the need. Pelvic exercises (Kegel exercises) strengthen the muscles that control flow. Interestingly, capsaicin, which is the active ingredient in chili peppers, seems to target the nerves of the bladder. A related substance, resiniferatoxin, has also had favorable findings in preliminary research of patients with spinal cord injury. Try these natural supplements first.
- ADHD. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is treated with antipsychotics including Abilify and Seroquel. But side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, and irregular heartbeat, leave a lot of people trying alternatives first. Behavioral therapy works wonders for many people, but when other conditions combine with ADHD, including bipolar disorder, medication sometimes is the only option.
- Dementia. The same prescriptions used for ADHD are used for dementia, generally. But some nondrug options have proved effective: Establish regular routines, practice calming activities (consider yoga) and get out and socialize. Scientists theorize that making social contacts exercises the brain.
- Osteopenia. Low bone-density condition that could lead to osteoporosis. Before embarking on a regimen of biophosphates (Actonel, Boniva, Fosamax) that have alarming side effects including risk of fractures, nausea, and vomiting, strengthen bones through diet and by lifting weights and exercising. Write down everything that you eat in the course of a few days and target where you are lacking in calcium and vitamin D. Make sure you get enough and that includes yogurt and milk products. Sardines are surprisingly high in vitamin D and calcium — and they are great on salads. Mom k new best — eat your spinach. It's high in calcium, fiber vitamin A and iron.
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