Genomics impact on your medicine - ScriptSave WellRx blog image

by Sterling Harpst
2019 PharmD Candidate

Testing Your DNA May Actually Help Make Your Medicines Work Better

Many patients have heard of the personal genetic testing kits available for purchase from websites such as 23AndMe or AncestryDNA. There are currently over 250 Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) companies providing services to analyze saliva samples and create customized reports on what your genetic information says about you.1 Advertising for these companies often include claims that DNA testing can be used to determine an individual’s ancestry, risk for getting certain diseases, or even athletic ability.

What is of interest for many patients, however, is the claim that genetic information can be used to make their medicine more effective. With all of the information being presented, it can be easy for patients to become overwhelmed and unsure of how to make sense of it all. Here’s what consumers should know about the evolving field of Pharmacogenomics.

What are genes?

Inside your body there are millions of cells carrying chromosomes. Chromosomes makes up what is referred to as your “genetic blueprint.”  These are passed on to you from your parents and are made of unique information (genes) which code for specific traits. It is thought that there are nearly 30,000 genes in the human body which determine things like eye color, skin tone, height, and even the likelihood you may get a certain disease.2

What is Pharmacogenomics?

Pharmacogenomics is a relatively new field that looks at how a person’s unique genetic material affects their response to drugs. Imagine that three people get the same disease. Conventional medicine would often recommend they be prescribed the exact same medication. This may make one patient well again very quickly but have no impact on the other two. Essentially, pharmacogenomics aims to explain why changes in genetic information cause some drugs to work differently in different people. This new and exciting field hopes to make personalized medicine a reality, resulting in better diagnoses, earlier treatment decisions, more effective medication use, and customized therapy. By combining an understanding of drugs and genes, there is hope that one day all medicine can be personalized based on a patient’s DNA.

The Limitations of Genetic Tests

Although companies make a number of claims about what information their tests can provide, there are a few limitations to consider before completing any genetic test.

Interpretation

Perhaps the biggest limitation to pharmacogenomics is our ability to fully interpret what genetic information means. Modern technology allows us to analyze tens of thousands of genes, however truly understanding that information is another challenge entirely. Imagine a dictionary full of words, except only a few pages have a definition listed for each word. This dictionary could be used to describe where pharmacogenomics currently stands. Although we have advanced tremendously in recent years, we are still far from fully understanding of the meaning of every gene.

Ability to Make Changes

While there are certain therapies that require genetic testing before use, most do not. Many of the DTC genetic tests are designed to report only information related to drug metabolism. For example, if you do not make specific chemicals necessary to break down a drug, the drug may stay in your system longer and result in side effects. If you make those same chemicals in very high amounts, that drug may not reach the intended effect because your body removes it too quickly. For the purpose of making medication changes, this is often the only result tests can provide.

Minimal Regulation

Although there are many tests available today, there is little regulation when it comes to making sure companies are producing accurate results. Claims that you will know your chances for developing diseases such as Alzheimer’s are based on likelihood, not certainty. Many companies advertise tests that can be used to customize your diet and lifestyle as well. Without well documented clinical studies to provide evidence of these statements, the Centers for Disease Control and Intervention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are often hesitant to agree.3

For some of the newer or less well-known companies, there are significant concerns with the privacy of your genetic information. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) was signed into law in 2008, preventing health insurances and employers from discriminating based on genetic information.4 However, with patient permission it is still legal to sell this data, making it very important to read the privacy policies on how they will use your information before taking a test.

If You’re Considering a DTC Genetic Test

It is important to know that the FDA and CDC do not approve genetic testing in place of traditional health care evaluation. The results may provide a likelihood regarding your chance to benefit from certain medications, but the tests are not final. Often the results may not be significant enough to change anything about your medicine. Here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • Talk with your doctor first before completing any genetic test. It is important to know what they would recommend based on your specific circumstance.
  • Ask your doctor if they would be able to interpret the test with you. Some reports can be complicated and very difficult for patients to understand. Genetic counselors are healthcare professionals that are specifically trained to help interpret the meaning of genetic testing results.
  • Before making any changes to medications or lifestyle, ask the opinion of your doctor. Since test results can be challenging to understand, changes could result in dangerous consequences if made incorrectly.
  • Understand your rights regarding privacy. Before sending your DNA to anyone, it is best to know what your information will be used for. Your genetic information is personal, and you may not want companies to share that information for personal gain.

References

  1. Phillips, Andelka M. “Only a Click Away – DTC Genetics for Ancestry, Health, Love and More: A View of the Business and Regulatory Landscape.” Applied & Translational Genomics, vol. 8, 2016, pp. 16–22., doi:10.1016/j.atg.2016.01.001.
  2. “Human Genome Project Completion: Frequently Asked Questions.” National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), 30 Oct. 2010, genome.gov/11006943/human-genome-project-completion-frequently-asked-questions/.
  3. “Regulation of Genetic Tests.” National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), 17 Jan. 2018, genome.gov/10002335/.
  4. Su P. Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing: A Comprehensive View. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 2013;86(3):359-365.

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by Benjamin Liang
PharmD Candidate Class of 2019, University of Arizona

Changes in Health Information Technology (HIT)

Technology in our daily lives is increasing at an astounding pace. Each day, our lives are becoming more connected to technology, but more specifically, to information technology. Recent news events related to personal information have brought some concerns to light. Companies that provide technology services are storing user data and potentially using the data for their own purposes. Technology users are becoming savvier about the data they produce, which companies have access to the data, and how the data is being used. There are government regulations set in place for protecting your health information.

Let’s look at how healthcare providers are using health information and what you can do to protect and use your information effectively.

What are healthcare providers are doing?

The impact healthcare providers have on you is dependent on the amount of information available. Access to health information can help in patient care. Healthcare providers are trying to get connected and stay connected with patients. Consistent, scheduled care can allow healthcare providers to prevent problems or treat them before they take a toll on daily activities.2

Some ways pharmacists are using health information technology is through medication therapy management, clinical decision support, chronic care management, and annual wellness visits. Medication Therapy Management (MTM) utilizes prescription medication claims and information from the patient to find problems with medications, costs, and adherence. Clinical decision support connects patient health information to a knowledge base to guide therapy and reduce medication errors. Using standardized records systems, pharmacists can manage chronic conditions by using data from multiple sources such as pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics.

The progression of a chronic disease can be tracked through the records from multiple sources, thus allowing pharmacists to adjust medication therapy as needed. Access to health information through multiple sources also allows providers to have a better picture of patients’ health during annual wellness visits.1

How can I stay safe?

Healthcare providers are required to provide patients with a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) consent form. Signing this form allows the healthcare facility to utilize your health information for therapy and billing. The healthcare facilities also follow the guidelines set by HIPAA to secure your information and to use it only when necessary. If you are concerned about health information practices you can ask if the facility follows HIPAA guidelines. Most facilities can provide a report on why your information was used and to whom it was shared. You can also request a copy of your health records and make corrections to them, if appropriate.3

What can you do to help your healthcare providers?

Healthcare providers can make more informed decisions when your health information is accurate and complete. The best way to help providers reach informed decisions is to ensure your health records are up to date. These are some categories that should be up to date in your own health records:

  • Allergies
  • Current Medication List
    • Name of the medication
    • Strength of the medication
    • Schedule for taking the medication
    • Route of administration
    • Length of time on each medication
  • Current and Past Health conditions
    • When you were diagnosed
    • Surgical history

Shared decision making is a way for patients and their providers to work together to determine what is right for the patient in order for you, as the patient, to make an informed decision about your health care. When selecting treatments, screening tests, and care plans, it’s important to talk to your provider about your preferences and to fully understand how your personal health information is being used. After all, it is yours!

References

  1. Abubakar, A., & Sinclair, J. (2018). Health infromation tehnology in practice. Pharmacy Today, 58-65.
  2. Dullabh , P., Sondheimer , N., Katsh, E., Young, J.-E., Washington, M., & Stromberg, S. (2014). Improving the Health Records Request Process for Patients Insights from User Experience Research. Chicago: NORC at the Univeristy of Chicago.
  3. S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2017, February 1). Your Rights Under HIPAA. Retrieved from U.S. Health and Human Services: https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-individuals/guidance-materials-for-consumers/index.html

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Medicare “Donut Hole” Changes Being Made and What It Means For You

by Marcus Harding
PharmD Candidate Class of 2019, University of Arizona

Mmmm…donut holes. You may be thinking of relaxing on a Saturday morning, sipping coffee and eating these tasty, sugary, fried treats. Unfortunately,  the type of donut hole we’re talking about is not so tasty.

What is the “Donut Hole?”

The Medicare coverage gap, better known as the “donut hole,” is a mystery to many, however there are thousands of people that it effects every year1. Simply put, it is a gap in coverage of medications after a certain amount has been contributed2. In other words, after you and your plan have spent a total of $3,750 on medications for the year (not including your deductible), the plan stops covering those medications and you are required to pay the entire cost of the medication out of pocket2. Once you enter the donut hole, and pay a total of $5,000 for the year (including your deductible) you enter what is called “critical coverage,” and you only pay 5% of the total cost for each medication3.

Medicare donut hole image - ScriptSave WellRx

Changes to the Donut Hole

The Affordable Care Act set in motion a plan to get rid of the donut hole completely1,2,4,7. The act set in place a “discount” that each plan member would get every year when they reached the donut hole. This discount would be paid by the manufacturers of the medications, and would increase each year until 2020, when the donut hole would be gone completely2.

  • In 2018, once a member enters the donut hole, they pay 35% of the total cost of the brand name drug, and the manufacturer pays a 50% discount2. This discount would be applied to the total cost spent by you, the plan member.
  • Example: you need a $100 medication, you pay $35, the manufacturer discounts you $50, so it looks as if you payed $85.
    • That $85 goes towards the $5,000 required spending to get out of the donut hole.
    • Once that $5,000 is spent, you reach critical coverage and only pay 5% of the brand name drug cost.

On Friday February 9th, the president signed a budget deal to “get rid” of the donut hole sooner4,5,6,7.

  • In 2019, once you reach the donut hole you will only pay 25% of a brand name drug cost, the insurance company will cover 5% of the cost and the manufacturer will cover the other 70%4,5,6,7.
  • You will receive credit for the 70% discount from the manufacturer, plus the 25% that you contributed for a total of 95% of the drug cost4,5,6,7.
    • This amount will go towards the $5000 threshold, after which you will be in “critical coverage” and pay only 5% of the total drug cost.
  • Example: If you need a $100 medication, you pay $25, the manufacturer discounts you $70, so it looks as if you payed $95.
    • The $95 goes towards the $5,000 to reach critical coverage where you will only pay 5% of the drug cost for the rest of the year.

So, the donut hole will still technically exist, but now instead of paying the full 100% of the cost of your medications, you will only pay 25%, and be credited with 95%.

What does this mean for you?

Healthcare in general can be complicated, especially as you factor insurance and coverage into the mix. There are a lot of numbers and percentages, so if you got lost in the numbers throughout this description, basically this means that if you typically reach the donut hole each year and are expected to pay for medications out of pocket, you will be saving a lot of money. Some people may not have enough medications or a high enough drug cost to even reach the donut hole, which is great, however as people get older they tend to have more health complications and need more medications. This can cost a lot of money. With these new laws and budget deals in place, if you have been reaching the donut hole previously, your total cost savings can increase quite a bit compared to previous years1.

How do you know if you will reach the donut hole?

Once again, the numbers above can be tricky to work through. Luckily there are easier ways to look at cost, spending and discounts.

  • It is estimated that if you pay more than $318 a month, you will enter the donut hole before the end of the year.
  • If you pay more than $743 a month, you will exit the donut hole before the end of the year and enter catastrophic coverage (based on a deductible of $415)4.

These numbers are just estimates based off common coverage and will differ depending on the deductible you have and the coverage you pay for. If you want to find out more about how much you spend compared to how much is covered, there are Medicare Part D donut hole calculators that break it down by each monthly payment4. Lastly, pharmacists are always a great source of knowledge as they deal with these plans on a daily basis, so never forget to ask a pharmacist or even your plan directly if you have any questions regarding the changes.

References:

  1. “2017-01-13.” CMS.gov Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 23 May 2018, www.cms.gov/Newsroom/MediaReleaseDatabase/Press-releases/2017-Press-releases-items/2017-01-13.html.
  2. “Costs in the Coverage Gap.” Medicare.gov – the Official U.S. Government Site for Medicare, www.medicare.gov/part-d/costs/coverage-gap/part-d-coverage-gap.html. https://www.medicare.gov/part-d/costs/coverage-gap/more-drug-savings-in-2020.html
  3. Bunis, Dena. “Medicare Part D ‘Donut Hole’ Will Close in 2019.” AARP, 9 Feb. 2018, aarp.org/health/medicare-insurance/info-2018/part-d-donut-hole-closes-fd.html.
  4. A Preview of 2019: CMS Releases the Proposed 2019 Medicare Part D Standard Drug Plan Coverage Parameters.” Q1Medicare.Com, 2 Feb. 2018, 1524, https://q1medicare.com/q1group/MedicareAdvantagePartD/Blog.php?blog=A-preview-of-2019–CMS-releases-the-proposed-2019-Medicare-Part-D-standard-drug-plan-coverage-parameters&blog_id=397&frompage=18.
  5. Cubanski, Juliette. “Summary of Recent and Proposed Changes to Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage and Reimbursement.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 15 Feb. 2018, kff.org/medicare/issue-brief/summary-of-recent-and-proposed-changes-to-medicare-prescription-drug-coverage-and-reimbursement/?utm_campaign=KFF-2018-Medicare&utm_content=67264845&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.
  6. Larson, John. “H.R.1892 – 115th Congress (2017-2018): Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018.” Congress.gov, 9 Feb. 2018, congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1892?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22H.R.1892%22%5D%7D&r=1.
  7. “Prescription Drug Benefits.” Social Security History, Social Security Administration, 22 Feb. 2018, www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/ssact/title18/1860D-02.htm.

If you’re struggling to afford your medications,
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by Derek Matlock
Pharm.D. Candidate 2017
Washington State University

Nearly one-quarter of all U.S. deaths in 2016 we­­­re linked to heart disease, which refers to conditions involved in narrowing or blocking blood vessels, potentially leading to things like heart attack, chest pain, or stroke.

A Steady Decline in Stroke Deaths

Despite the continued and steady decline of deaths due to strokes, they continue account for 1 of every 20 deaths in the US. The decline of deaths due to strokes can be attributed to early identification of strokes, primary prevention, and secondary prevention.

Signs of a Stroke

FAST stroke acronym explained - image - ScriptSave WellRx

As a patient or caregiver, is it important to be able to identify the signs of a stroke as early as possible, as it can influence a positive outcome in patients at risk. The FAST acronym can be a simple and easy tool for identifying a stroke.

 

Face: Does the face look uneven? Ask them to smile.

Arm: Does one arm hang down? Ask them to raise both arms.

Speech: Does their speech sound strange? Ask them to repeat a phrase.

Time: Every second brain cells die. If any of these signs are observed, call 911.

Primary Prevention of a Stroke

Primary prevention refers to the management or treatment of patients who have no prior history of stroke. It involves addressing modifiable risk factors a patient may have, which may include: high blood pressure, diabetes, dyslipidemia, atrial fibrillation, sickle cell disease, post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy, oral contraceptives, diet, weight and body fat.

 

Additionally, your doctor or pharmacist may calculate your Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease (ASCVD) risk score, which estimates a 10-year risk of heart attack or stroke and helps determine the appropriateness of using medications to lower your risk. Some medications that may be added include: statins for cholesterol; thiazide diuretics, ACE inhibitors (ACEIs)/angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), or calcium-channel blockers (CCBs) for blood pressure; and aspirin to help prevent blood clot formation.

Secondary Prevention of a Stroke

Secondary prevention refers to the treatment of patients who have already had a stroke or “mini-stroke.” Interventions commonly prescribed for secondary prevention are summarized using the following ABCDE acronym:

Antiplatelets and Anticoagulants: Antiplatelet medications, like aspirin, clopidogrel, and dipyridamole, can prevent formation of clots. Anticoagulants like warfarin, apixaban, rivaroxaban, and dabigatran can also reduce the ability for the blood to clot and thus lower stroke risk.

Blood pressure-lowering medications: Thiazide diuretics, ACEIs/ARBs, and CCBs help patients control the number one risk factor for a recurrent stroke, high blood pressure.

Cessation of cigarette smoking and Cholesterol-lowering medications: Quitting smoking can significantly lower the risk of strokes, while cholesterol-lowering medications, like statins (e.g., simvastatin, rosuvastatin, atorvastatin), have been shown to lower bad cholesterol as well as decrease the risk of recurrent stroke and mortality.

Diet: In addition to helping weight loss, following a heart healthy diet, or a low-sodium “DASH diet”, may help lower cholesterol, triglycerides, or blood pressure, which decreases your risk of a stroke.

Exercise: For patients capable of exercising, it is recommended to exercise moderately to vigorously for 20 to 40 minutes 3-4 times per week. Be sure to stay within your limits. Good exercises can include walking or riding an exercise bike. Some community centers and gyms even host classes for older patients with physical limitations.

Strokes Still a Significant Cause of Death

Strokes continue to account for a significant amount of deaths in the United States. Your doctor or pharmacist may recommend lifestyle modifications and medications to help lower the possibility of experiencing a new or recurrent stroke. If you are being prescribed medications to lower your stroke risk, be sure to provide your doctor with a thorough medical history and medication list, as some conditions and medications may guide the recommendations your doctor makes. Your pharmacist can also be a valuable resource to any questions you may have.

 

References:

  1. American Heart Association: Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2017
  2. Mayo Clinic: Heart Disease
  3. MedicalNewsToday: Top 10 Causes of Death in the U.S.
  4. Medscape: Stroke Prevention
  5. UpToDate: Overview of Primary Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke
  6. UpToDate: Overview of Secondary Prevention of Ischemic Stroke

If you’re struggling to afford your medications,
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Cystic Fibrosis breathing treatment - image - ScriptSave WellRx

What is Cystic Fibrosis (CF)?

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a complex genetic disease that affects the lungs, digestive system, reproductive tract, and sweat glands. In the United States, roughly 30,000 people are living with cystic fibrosis, and another 1,000 are being diagnosed with the disease each year. Most CF patients are diagnosed by age two.

Cystic fibrosis is a progressive condition, involving body’s mucus glands1. Despite its widespread effects on the body, the majority of patients in United States suffer from lung complications with CF. These patients cannot removes excess mucus from their lungs which can lead to the accumulation of thick, viscous secretions1. Mucus accumulation is often a breeding ground for bacterial growth. Children and adolescents with CF often have decreased growth, which could be caused by a combination of malabsorption, decrease in appetite, and increase in energy expenditure due to this condition2. Some CF patients do not make adequate pancreatic enzymes, which are needed to help the body absorb the fat soluble vitamins A,D, E, and K. These vitamins are essential for body growth, immune function, and reproductive health.

Dietary Supplementation

It is important for CF patients to eat a proper diet. They often require a higher caloric intake than other people. Pancreatic enzymes should be replaced if the patient is diagnosed with pancreatic insufficiency. These are some examples of targeted nutrients and/or pharmacological agents that are used in practice:

Non-Pharmacological Nutrients in Cystic Fibrosis3,5

  • Omega 3 fatty acids to lower inflammation.
  • Probiotic supplement to improve digestion.
  • Anti-inflammatory foods, such as extra virgin olive oil, avocadoes, walnuts, and flaxseed oils.
  • Sodium – patients with CF are prone to sodium loss. However, they should carefully monitor their blood pressure if their doctor recommends a high sodium diet.
  • Fluoride – vitamins formulated for the CF patient do not contain fluoride. It is essential to feed them fluoride supplement.
  • Zinc – CF patients under the age of two, who have inadequate growth despite the proper nutrient support, should be evaluated for zinc deficiencies.

Treatments for Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis treatment strives to help patients reach a better quality of life by improving breathing and lung capacity. Devices, like oscillatory positive pressure, remove the mucus and secretions of the lungs. Hypertonic saline can be used to increase air flow into the lungs and break up mucus. Breathing exercises and physical therapy can help dislodge the mucus in the chest and promote better breathing4.

Symptoms of Lung Complications in CF Patients

Force expiratory volume (FEV1) is a measure of how much air a person can exhale in a forced breath, and is a good indicator of lung function. It’s an easy, convenient method for monitoring lung function at home. FEV1 below individual goal is the indication of reduction in pulmonary function3. In young children, viruses are the cause of acute exacerbations leading to a decline in pulmonary functions. Diagnosis of pulmonary exacerbations is based on decline in individual health condition with pulmonary symptoms, as compared to recent baseline health status3. Symptoms that are commonly present include:

  • New or increased cough
  • Increase in sputum production or chest congestion
  • Increased fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
  • Changes in sputum appearances

Pharmacological Treatments

CF patient are at a severe risk for influenza infection. Prophylaxis or treatment with oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) is often recommended under certain circumstances6. Annual vaccination against viral influenza is recommended to all patients with CF six months and older6.

Many patients with CF have chronic bacterial infection of lungs because of the thick viscus mucus accumulation. Systemic antibiotics are indicated to all patient with CF if they experience new or increased cough, and changes in the color of their mucus, which can indicate bacterial presence due to unnecessary mucus accumulation in the lungs. Antibiotic selection will depend on the results of a sputum culture.

Patients with the CF should focus on the type of food they consume to ensure they are getting proper nutrients. Daily use of the FEV1 is important, which helps to clear the mucus and prevent possible infections.

References:

  1. Cohen, T. S., & Prince, A. (2012). Cystic fibrosis: a mucosal immunodeficiency syndrome. Nature medicine, 18(4), 509-519.
  2. Borowitz D, Baker RD, Stallings V. Consensus report on nutrition for pediatric patients with cystic fibrosis. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2002; 35:246.
  3. Reilly JJ, Edwards CA, Weaver LT. Malnutrition in children with cystic fibrosis: the energy-balance equation. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 1997; 25:127.
  4. Rosenfeld M, Emerson J, Williams-Warren J, et al. Defining a pulmonary exacerbation in cystic fibrosis. J Pediatr 2001; 139:359.
  5. Stallings VA, Stark LJ, Robinson KA, Feranchak AP, Quinton H, Clinical Practice Guidelines on Growth and Nutrition Subcommittee, Ad Hoc Working Group J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108(5):832.
  6. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/cystic-fibrosis-overview-of-the-treatment-of-lung-disease?sectionName=Influenza%20vaccine&anchor=H20&source=see_link#H20

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Prevent shingles - ScriptSave WellRx image

by Alyssa Kasher
PharmD Candidate of 2018

It’s likely you’ve heard about shingles, or may even know someone who has had the painful rash, but what exactly is shingles, and how can you prevent it? The varicella-zoster virus (VSV) causes two distinct forms of infection, chickenpox and shingles. It’s important to recognize how you can contract this virus and what you can do to protect against it.

If You’ve Ever had Chickenpox, You Can Develop Shingles

A primary VSV infection occurs when you’re first exposed to the virus, referred to as varicella or chickenpox. Chickenpox is a highly contagious condition spread through direct person-to-person contact, sneezing, or coughing. Most people recognize it from the itchy blisters or “pox” that appear all over the body.  In healthy people, the condition is mild and resolves within 5-10 days1.  As chickenpox resolves, the varicella-zoster virus retreats into the nerve cells and goes into hiding. The virus’s ability to evade the immune system allows it to lay dormant until future reactivation1. Although anyone previously infected with chickenpox will carry VSV in their system, not everyone will experience the virus’s reactivation.

According to the CDC, 1 in 3 Americans will experience the reactivation of the VSV. When this occurs, it manifests as a secondary infection called herpes zoster or shingles1. The virus travels down a nerve and produces a patch of painful lesions on the skin that may permanently scar or discolor the skin.

Shingles is More Dangerous Than Chickenpox

As the infection moves down the nerve, it causes inflammation resulting in damage or cell death2. This causes the most painful and lasting effect of the infection, called peripheral neuropathy or nerve pain. Inflammation may also occur in the eyes and the brain causing serious and potentially fatal complications1. Shingles is more dangerous than chickenpox, especially because it usually occurs in older people who may have weaker immune systems with less ability to fight off the infection.

How Can You Prevent Shingles? Vaccination

The first vaccine to prevent the primary VSV infection, or chickenpox, was not developed until 1995. This means much of the older population has been exposed to chickenpox. Zostavax, the first vaccine to prevent the reactivation of the virus (shingles), did not come out until 20064.  Many people may have already received the Zostavax vaccine. However, a better vaccine has taken its place.

Shingrix: A Better Way to Prevent Shingles

In the fall of 2017, Zostavax was replaced by Shingrix as the CDC recommended vaccine to best prevent shingles and related complications. Shingrix, unlike Zostavax, is not a live vaccine and cannot cause shingles. Shingrix is given in two doses, and is over 90% effective at preventing shingles3. The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 50 of receive Shingrix. You should get the Shingrix vaccine if you have already had shingles, previously received Zostavax or if you’re not sure you had chickenpox as a child. Studies show that 99% of Americans over 40 have been exposed to the chickenpox virus whether they realize it or not3.

Patient populations at the highest risk of shingles include:

  • those over 50
  • immunocompromised patients
  • females
  • anyone with underlying chronic lung and kidney disease.

Facts About Shingrix3

  • After your first dose of Shingrix, you should receive the second dose within 2-6 months.
  • You can receive the vaccine at your community pharmacy without a prescription.
  • Shingrix is covered by Medicare Part D. Ask your pharmacist to see if your plan covers it.
  • Shingrix can cause injection site soreness and pain. Using ibuprofen or Tylenol can help.
  • Talk to your pharmacist or doctor to see if Shingrix is right for you.
  • Always discuss all conditions/medications with a doctor or pharmacist before getting a vaccine.

References

  1. Albrecht, MA. Clinical manifestations of the varicella-zoster virus infection: Herpes zoster. In: Basow DS, ed., UpToDate. Waltham (MA).: UpToDate; 2016.
  2. Albrecht, MA. Epidemiology and pathogenesis of varicella-zoster virus infection: Herpes zoster. In: Basow DS, ed., UpToDate. Waltham (MA).: UpToDate; 2016.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccines & Preventable Diseases. Vaccines by Disease. Shingles. Retrieved at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/public/zostavax/index.html. Accessed 2018 Jan 22.
  4. Immunization Action Coalition. Chickenpox (Varicella): Questions and Answers. Retrieved at: https://www.immunize.org/catg.d/p4202.pdf. Accessed 2018 Jan 22.

If you’re struggling to afford your medications,
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Medicine Chest Must Haves - image

Here are ten must-haves for every home medicine chest:

Plain soap

Good ol’ soap and water is still the best way to clean minor cuts and scrapes. It works just as well as antibacterial soap—and it’s less expensive!

A compression wrap

If you twist your ankle or wrist, remember the RICE treatment: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Elastic wraps, such as those made by ACE, are the compression component of the RICE equation. “These are excellent for giving support to a sprained joint,” says Jennifer Zimmer, MD, an internal medicine doctor at the Dallas Diagnostic Association and the Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, Texas.

Aspirin

Not only for headaches and hangovers, but if you’re at risk for something far more serious: “If you have chest pain, chew up 325 mg of uncoated aspirin,” advises Singh. “Heart attacks can happen any time and taking aspirin as soon as possible can help reduce the damage.” Aspirin can help break down the blood clot in your artery and limit the injury to your heart. Keep in mind, however, that there are many different types of chest pain and that aspirin is not the right treatment for many of them. Rare use is relatively safe but repeated aspirin use can cause harm. Talk to you doctor to learn about your heart-disease risk and what to do in an emergency.

Bandages (assorted sizes)

Not just for kids! You need these, as well, to keep your boo-boos and owies from becoming infected.

A thermometer

Experts recommend a digital thermometer over the mercury type (which are just as accurate but difficult to read). “A good thermometer can monitor for temperature elevation that could indicate infection in a wound or worsening of an illness,” says Zimmer.

Mild pain relievers

Stock acetaminophen or ibuprofen for minor pain and fever. “Remember to check doses, though, as children take a dose based on their weight,” advises Singh.

Antibacterial ointment

Apply after cleaning a wound to help reduce infection risk and increase healing time.

An antihistamine

Use to relieve minor allergy symptoms like sneezing, itching and swelling. Call 911 if you have a severe allergic reaction—such as difficulty breathing, or swelling of the tongue or lip—as an antihistamine won’t help.

Hydrocortisone cream

This is useful for taking itch out of rashes and insect bites.

Phone numbers

Inside the door of your medicine cabinet, adhere contact info for your family members, doctors, pharmacy, and your local poison control center. If there is an emergency, this cost-you-nothing strategy can prove to be priceless.

Remember to check the contents of your kit every 6 to 12 months to ensure that medicines haven’t expired, and that your contact numbers are still up-to-date.

Finally, it’s also handy to keep a first-aid kit in your car and your day-trip backpack. And think about other places a kit could be useful. Going on vacation? Remember to take one with you to the cabin, boat, or wherever else your road leads. Go well!

Nancy Gottesman, a health and nutrition writer in Santa Monica, CA, is stocking her first-aid kit now.

Copyright © 2018 Healthnotes, Inc. All rights reserved. www.healthnotes.com

Learn more about Healthnotes, the company.


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what is this med for image - wellrx

by Seth Root
PharmD Candidate – Midwestern University

If you’re on a prescription medication, you probably know it’s important to make sure you take that medication as prescribed by your doctor. What many patients don’t know, however, is that it is also important to know why you’re taking that medication, or why your doctor prescribed that medication for you. There are many reasons why knowing the purpose of your medications are important, but we’re only covering a few of them in this blog post.

Purpose of the Medication

Medications are generally made for a specific purpose, like aspirin is made to be a pain reliever. However, knowing what a medication is generally used for isn’t enough, as doctors may prescribe medications for things other than what the medication was originally meant to treat. For example, even though aspirin is meant to be a pain reliever, your doctor may prescribe it as a blood thinner.

Sometimes medications are prescribed for other purposes than what the manufacturer intended. This is known as off-label use. But this can make it difficult to accurately research your medications online. Researching your medications on the internet might be quick  and convenient, but even if the information is accurate (which often it is not) it might not reflect the information you need, as you might be taking the medication for a purpose other than what the drug was initially designed for. Therefore, if you have questions about why you’re taking a medication, the best person to ask is the doctor that prescribed it to you, or your local pharmacists.

This might have you thinking why it’s important to know the purpose of your medication. There are many reasons for this, one of which has to do with side effects. All medications have side effects. Side effects are important to consider as they can seriously impact your quality of life. How many medications you’re on is one of the most important determining factors regarding what side effects you’ll experience.

This is where knowing what purpose your medications are for comes into play, as sometimes we are on multiple medications for the same disease, but because you’re on multiple medications you’re experiencing side effects that you wouldn’t experience if you were on just one of the medications. This is known as a drug-drug interaction. If you can identify which medications are treating the same disease, it’s possible you can reduce the number of medications you’re on, which will help cut down on the number and/or intensity of side effects.

Where to Start

If you’re wondering where to start learning about your medications, as mentioned before the best place to start is by asking the doctor that prescribed the medication to you. Even if everything is good, you may be surprised with what you learn, like helpful tips on how to maximize the medication effect or ways to reduce the side effect. Another good person to ask is your pharmacist, especially if you’re on multiple medications. They can help identify drug-drug interactions you might be experiencing, can recommend similar medicines that might have less side effects and/or are cheaper, and can also give helpful tips about managing your medications and their side effects.

The biggest thing to do when learning about medications is to make sure to take them as prescribed. If for whatever reason you don’t want to continue taking the medication, the worst thing you can do is not tell your doctor or pharmacist about it. They’re here to help you. Even if you don’t want to take your medications, they can work around that the best they can or possibly find a more suitable medication. If you don’t take your medications as prescribed, they may think that your disease is not responding to the medications and therefore prescribe more medications to try to control it. This can lead to unnecessary prescribing and more side effects, as well as being more expensive. So please, talk to your doctor and/or pharmacists about your medications and the reason why you were prescribed them. In the long run, it will be helpful for you.

 


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Go Red For Women 2018 - American Heart Association

It’s a new year and you’re probably trying to do this “healthy” thing. You’re going for long walks or runs, limiting your donut calories and not smoking. You may be thinking you’ve eliminated your risk for, for heart disease, but wait. There’s more.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the biggest risk factors for heart disease include obesity, lack of exercise, smoking, high blood pressure or cholesterol, a poor diet, and stress.

For many women there are other factors for heart disease and stroke that you can’t control that may not even be on your radar. Your love life, a strong family history, race, and increasing age are all on the list of contributing factors.

CVS Health is continuing their support of the AHA’s Go Red for Women movement. They’ll be offering no cost “Know Your Numbers” health screenings at their MinuteClinics every Wednesday in February.

Visit a CVS MinuteClinic on February 14, 21, and 28 and receive a no-cost heart health preventative screening. If you go, you’ll get screenings to help determine your risk for heart disease – total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and body mass index (BMI).

A list of CVS MinuteClinic locations is available on the MinuteClinic website. For more information on the AHA Go Red for Women movement, visit GoRedForWomen.org.

Click to read the CVS press release.


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managing-insomnia

by Jenny Bingham, PharmD, BCACP
SinfoniaRx

What is insomnia?

The prevalence of insomnia increases with age, especially in women. Individuals can experience one of two different types: acute or chronic. Acute or transient insomnia lasts for days to weeks. Chronic insomnia lasts for more than one month. 1

A general consensus estimates that approximately one-third of adults experience insomnia. Characteristic symptoms include: difficulty initiating sleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, waking up too early, and/or poor quality of sleep. 2

Why is it important to treat insomnia?

Untreated insomnia can have negative outcomes on an individual’s overall health. It is been associated with altered physical health, emotional health, mental health, social functioning, pain control, and overall health perception. 3

What can you do to treat insomnia?

There are two approaches to treating insomnia without medications. 4

Sleep hygiene

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule.
  • Do not exercise immediately before bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol and stimulants (caffeine, nicotine) in the late afternoon and evening.
  • Maintain a comfortable sleeping environment that is dark, quiet, and free of distractions.
  • Avoid consuming large amounts of food or liquids immediately before bedtime.

Stimulus control

  • Go to bed only when you are sleepy.
  • Avoid daytime naps.
  • If unable to sleep, get out of bed and go to another room— only return to your bed when you feel the need to sleep.
  • Do not eat or watch TV in bed.
  • Wake up at the same time each day.

Individuals should also ask their provider about management of other underlying causes of insomnia, like psychiatric or other medical conditions. It’s important to limit prescription sleep aids to short-term use. After initiating any treatment for insomnia, whether behavioral or prescription, it’s important to reevaluate after a few weeks.

References:

  1. Schutte-Rodin S, Broch L, Buysse D, et al. Clinical guideline for the evaluation and management of chronic insomnia in adults. J Clin Sleep Med 2008; 4:487–504.
  2. Ancoli-Israel S, Roth T. Characteristics of insomnia in the United States: results of the 1991 National Sleep Foundation Survey. I. Sleep. 1999 May 1; 22 Suppl (2):S347-53.
  3. Katz DA, McHorney CA. The relationship between insomnia and health-related quality of life in patients with chronic illness. J Fam Pract. 2002 Mar; 51(3):229-35
  4. Dopp JM, Phillips BG, Chisholm-Burns M. Sleep Disorders. Pharmacotherapy Principles & Practice and. 3e; 41: 737-747.

Download the free WellRx app from the iOS app store or the Google Play Store,
and get registered to take advantage of our free medication adherence tools.
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Rhabdomyolisis can cause muscle cramps, particularly in the legs.

by Sapna S. Patel, PharmD (2017)

For many who have been diagnosed with hypercholesterolemia, commonly known as high cholesterol, changes in diet and exercise may not be enough. If your doctor has prescribed a statin medication to lower your cholesterol, you may have heard or read about the potential side effects of statin drugs and their impact on liver function.

Doctors will often prescribe statins to lower the total cholesterol and reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke in people with high cholesterol levels. While statins are highly effective, they have been linked to muscle pain in some people, and in rare cases, even cause liver damage.

So what is rhabdomyolysis?Coca-Cola colored urine caused by rhabdomyolysis

Rhabdomyolysis is a severe, debilitating muscle pain (interferes with your ability to perform normal daily tasks) due to muscle damage and breakdown. This causes your damaged muscle to release their proteins into your bloodstream, become eliminated through your kidneys (ultimately leading to your kidney(s) shutting down), and appearing in your urine (which explains why the urine color of a patient experiencing rhabdomyolysis is referred to as “Coca-Cola” or “reddish-brown” color).

Some common statin medications are:

Statin medications can be very beneficial to your health. Statins can decrease the amount of “bad” cholesterol, which can clog your arteries, preventing oxygen-rich blood from reaching essential organs. Decreasing your “bad” cholesterol can lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Ultimately, this leads to living a longer and healthier life.

The majority of Patients benefit from using statin medications if indicated by their physician. Less than 3% of patients on statins report muscle pain while less than 0.5% report rhabdomyolysis. So, don’t stop using your statin medication until your physician confirms this side effect.

Common Symptoms of Rhabdomyolysis are:

In the larger muscle groups, like your thighs, shoulders, lower back, and calves:

  • Muscle tenderness
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Muscle weakness/fatigue
  • Muscle Stiffness
  • Muscle Cramping

Other signs of rhabdomyolysis are:

  • “Coca-Cola” or “reddish-brown” urine
  • Skin changes (discoloration or blisters)

How do I know if a statin medication is causing my symptoms?

Ask your Physician for bloodwork to check for abnormal Creatinine Kinase (CK, CPK) levels, liver function, and kidney function tests. These labs are not routinely checked during bloodwork.

Symptoms of rhabdomyolysis usually occur 4-6 weeks after first starting on a statin medication. However, they can occur years after being on a statin medication, so it’s important to always be aware of the symptoms of rhabdomyolysis.

If your only symptom is muscle pain, think about other reasons why your muscles may be painful, sore, stiff, or crampy. Could it be due to unusual physical activity such as hiking up a new trail, shoveling the driveway after a massive snowstorm, or trying a vigorous exercise routine, like spin cycling or high intensity interval training?

What if I do have rhabdomyolysis?

If you do end up with a diagnosis of rhabdomyolysis, your physician will likely stop your statin medication. There are statins that have a lower risk for rhabdomyolisis, such as pravastatin (Pravachol) and fluvastatin (Lescol).

As a final note, if you’re taking a statin, you should also avoid eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice. Grapefruit contains compounds called furanocoumarins that stop your body’s natural enzymes from doing their job. As a result, more of the statin drug is absorbed, making it more powerful than it would normally be.


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Anxiety medications and children photo

by Jenny Bingham, PharmD

Across the United States, the rate of antidepressant use in children is rising. It has led to prescription costs exceeding $100,000 in the four states with the highest antidepressant prescription rates for children: Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

As the number of antidepressant prescriptions rise, it’s only natural that parents will have a growing number of questions about those medications. Here’s a list of common questions other parents have had when starting pharmacotherapy for their child’s anxiety and/or depression:

How many pills will my child have to take?

The simplest answer is, it depends. Pharmacists are trained to know FDA approved indications for mental health medications. By incorporating pharmacists into the healthcare team, they can help find medications that have dual purposes and decrease the amount of pills in the regimen. Talk to your pharmacist about the medications and if there are alternatives.

How will pharmacotherapy affect my child?

Each patient responds differently to medications. Whereas some patients that are prescribed a common first-line antidepressant (fluoxetine) and tolerate it well, others may have an entirely different reaction. Certain medications can have negative side effects, including:

  • shaking
  • drowsiness
  • weight gain
  • insomnia
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • blurred vision
  • bleeding, and,
  • constipation.

These side effects can be extremely detrimental to a child’s quality of life. It’s important to have open communication with your healthcare provider to ensure that side effects don’t get in the way of medication adherence, school performance, or self-esteem. Current literature provides clinicians a wide variety of information about which side effects are more prominently reported in individual cases. This database of knowledge helps further individualize therapy and avoid potential side effects.

What risks are associated with pharmacotherapy?

Parents should be aware of the potential for abuse, especially with commonly prescribed anxiety medications (ex. alprazolam) that are rated as controlled substances.

Adolescents are at an increased risk of suicidal ideation when initiating certain medications. Family members must be educated on how to monitor, identify, and report these to the provider.

One must also consider the risks of not seeking appropriate treatment, like self-medication with illicit drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. Self-medication can unfavorable effects on one’s mental and physical health.

Are there alternatives to pharmacotherapy?

If a parent decides against using medications, trained therapists can provide alternative options, if appropriate. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common tool that incorporates education, relaxation exercises, coping skills, stress management, and assertiveness training.1

Other approaches include: interpersonal therapy, motivational interviewing, dialectical behavior therapy, supportive therapy, and family therapy. These tools can also be used in combination with medication to improve depression and anxiety. Parents should work closely with their physician to determine if this is a safe option as monotherapy.

Final Thoughts

Decisions about using medications to treat anxiety and/or depression in children must be catered specifically to the patient. It is imperative for health care providers to approach this sensitive topic as a group, including the patient and parents. Pharmacists are a great resource for optimizing medication effectiveness and reducing pill burden.

References:

  1. Beck JS. Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond, 2nd ed, Guilford Press, New York 2011. p.391.

Download the free WellRx app from the iOS app store or the Google Play Store,
and get registered to take advantage of our free medication adherence tools.

If you’re struggling to afford your medications,
visit www.WellRx.com to compare the cash price at pharmacies near you.
You may find prices lower than your insurance co-pay!

 

 

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