MHRA provides 5 festive top tips for people taking medicines or using medical devices

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Christmas and New Year is a time when we particularly want to keep well and stay safe. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has set out 5 festive top tips for people taking medicines or using medical devices.

Dr Alison Cave, Chief Safety Officer at the MHRA said, "For many people, the festive season is a time for coming together, creating treasured memories, and sharing traditions. But with all the busyness at this time of year, it's important not to let being safe fall off your To Do List, particularly when it comes to using medical products.

"These top tips will stand you in good stead anytime of the year too."

1) Some medicines may interact with food and drink.

The festive season is often a time for eating and drinking more than we might do at other times. But did you know that some products can interact with your medicines, altering their effects or increasing the risk of side effects?

Cranberries are often associated with Christmas. If you're taking warfarin, for example, used to prevent and treat blood clots, do not eat cranberry products or drink cranberry juice. This might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding.

Brussels sprouts, broccoli and green leafy Christmas vegetables contain a lot of vitamin K, which is a chemical the body uses to promote blood clotting. Vitamin K counteracts the effects of warfarin and can make it less effective.  

It's important that you eat foods containing vitamin K, so rather than leaving them out of your diet, make sure you eat similar amounts of them regularly.

This will mean the level of vitamin K in your blood stays fairly constant and makes it more likely that your blood monitoring level stays stable.

Alcohol can affect the way your medicines work. Some antibiotics, for example, can have side effects such as feeling sick or dizzy, which might be made worse by drinking alcohol. You should always consult your doctor or pharmacist about whether it is safe to drink alcohol if you are taking medicines.

You should also check non-alcoholic drinks. Before sipping that mocktail containing grapefruit juice, check that you can! For example, do not drink grapefruit juice if you're taking simvastatin - used to lower cholesterol. It increases the level of the drug in your blood and makes side effects more likely. Some medicines used in the treatment of cancers may interact with grapefruit juice too.

There are several other medicines that may interact with certain types of food and drinks. The risk of experiencing a side effect due to a medicine interaction can vary a lot from person to person.

One of the best ways to check if your medicine could cause interactions is to read your Patient Information Leaflet that comes with it, or you can ask your pharmacist or GP for advice.  

2) Take analgesics (paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen) wisely.

Hopefully you'll escape winter colds, flu and COVID-19 over the festive season. But if not, you might reach for your packet of painkillers. If so, always check the dosage instructions.

These medicines are safe and effective when taken as instructed. Taking too much can be dangerous and you may need treatment. For example, too much paracetamol can cause liver damage.

3) Beware of dodgy diet products.

Wanting to lose weight is a common New Year's resolution. If that's something you want to do, be aware that criminals could lure you into a quick fix by offering fake, potentially harmful products such as dodgy diet pills or fake weight loss pens online.

We recently warned about these dangers asking people not to buy pre-filled pens claiming to contain Ozempic (semaglutide) or Saxenda (liraglutide). People should only use medicines like Ozempic or Saxenda where they've been prescribed it by a qualified healthcare professional and with a prescription.

Be careful when buying medicines online. Fake medicines and medical devices bought online can lead to serious health risks.

If anyone has a concern about their weight and health, they should visit their GP or pharmacist, get a correct diagnosis and if medicines are prescribed, obtain them from a legitimate source.  

All pharmacies in Great Britain, including those online, must be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and meet their standards for registered pharmacies.   

Visit the #FakeMeds website for tools and resources to help you purchase medicines or medical devices safely online.

4) Medicines and driving.

Many of us are likely to be driving home for Christmas or taking to the roads to see family and friends. Certain types of medicines can impair your driving so make sure you check your Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) supplied with your medicine before getting behind the wheel. The PIL will tell you if your medicine may affect your driving ability.

Did you know that it's against the law to drive if your driving ability is impaired by any medicine? Do not drive if you feel drowsy, dizzy, unable to concentrate or make decisions, or if you have blurred or double vision.

5) Report medicine side effects and adverse incidents from medical devices to the MHRA.

Most people take medicines without suffering any side effects or use medical devices without causing them harm. But no effective medicine is without risk and adverse incidents may occur when using medical devices.

If you suspect you've had a side effect or adverse incident over the festive season, or indeed at any time, please report it to our safety monitoring system, the MHRA Yellow Card scheme. By doing so, you are directly helping to improve the safety of medicines and medical devices for everyone.

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