Pharmacy FAQ

Regular medication Q&A by pharmacist
Mark Gilsenan (B.Pharm)

Please note that all the units of measurement and names of medications used on this site are relevant to Australia. Please check with your pharmacist or doctor before making changes to your medication.

Recently I had to take a course of Antibiotics and I seem to always have a severe reaction to them which involves feeling dizzy, drowsy and weak. I was told this could be caused when the liver is not functioning correctly. Would this be the reason? Note if I stop taking the antibiotics I feel fine by the end of the day.

There are very many different types and classes of Antibiotics and different dosage regimes for these Antibiotics. They also have different types of side-effects. As well as this you may have an individual reaction to a particular Antibiotic.

The symptoms you describe are most probably caused by the Antibiotic, but it is unlikely that it is caused by any liver dysfunction.

Usually these adverse effects are mild and transient and it is important to complete the full course of the Antibiotic.

I have just started taking ‘The Pill’ (Triquilar ED) and have put on a lot of fluid especially in my legs, feet and stomach area. Why would this happen? Will this continue? Should I be adjusting my other tablets such as the Florinef?

Oral contraceptives may cause some degree of fluid retention as and unwanted side effect. It is possible that this may continue and if so, may be related to the particular type of contraceptive used. Changing to a different type of contraceptive may be of benefit.

It would not be wise, however to alter the dosage of Florinef or other Addison’s treatment drugs

Is the long term use of analgesics such as Panadeine Forte detrimental when taking steroids?

Panadeine Forte contains Paracetamol and codeine phosphate, neither of which interacts or is harmful when given with steroids medication. However long term use of aspirin containing analgesics, particularly in higher doses, may cause gastrointestinal ulceration or bleeding. Therefore while the use of Panadeine Forte would not be detrimental when taking steroids, caution should be exercised when using aspirin medications, particularly in long term use.

Should a patient on Florinef avoid excessive use of tea or coffee? Could this be connected to fluid retention?

Florinef is used to control the body’s water and salt metabolism. It increases the retention of salt (sodium) and water. High doses of caffeine obtained from excessive use of tea or coffee will have the opposite effect, causing increased diuresis (loss of fluid and minerals, such as sodium and potassium). Moderate consumption of these beverages would be advised to avoid counteracting the effect of Florinef.

Why do Hysone and Dexamethasone cause tetany in some Addison’s disease patients?

Tetany is a condition characterised by cramps, convulsions, twitching of the muscles and sharp flexion of the wrist and ankle joints. This condition is caused by an abnormality in calcium metabolism.

The corticosteroids used as substitution therapy in Addison’s disease patients interfere with calcium metabolism by causing mobilisation of calcium and phosphorus from the bones, resulting in Osteoporosis.

Over-substitution could disturb the calcium and electrolyte balance enough to produce tetany. This is more likely to occur with naturally occurring corticosteroids (Hysone- hydrocortisone) which have a high degree of mineralocorticoid activity, than with Dexamethasone.

Why should an Addison’s disease patient on Rocaltrol be wary of taking Vitamin D supplements to their diet?

Rocaltrol is a potent synthetic Vitamin D substance that is used to reverse the effects of Osteoporosis. The difference between therapeutic and toxic concentrations is relatively small. Therefore anyone taking Rocaltrol should avoid taking any extra Vitamin D by way of supplements, as this added to vitamin D obtained from the diet, and the Rocaltrol could cause toxic effects.

I have had a problem with red, dry, sore eyes and my optometrist said it could be a side effect of taking cortisone. Is this true? What do you suggest I use to help with my sore eyes?

Prolonged high doses of cortisone therapy may cause changes to the eye that lead to raised intra-ocular pressure, or cataracts formation. For this reason, any symptoms that persist or are severe, should be referred to a doctor. A regular eye examination would detect any of these changes.

Other causes of these symptoms could be infection, allergy or dry eyes. For dry sore eyes, where no infection is apparent, an artificial tear preparation ( available without prescription) would be helpful e.g. "Polytears" or "Tears Plus"

Could taking Caltrate cause a burning sensation in my stomach? Can you suggest other forms in which calcium is available, which might be more suitable?

One of the main adverse side-effects of taking cortisone is the loss of Calcium from the bones and an increased risk of osteoporosis.

Post-menopausal women are the main victims of osteoporosis, but men can also be affected. Men usually have heavier, thicker bones than women. However men who are taking long term corticosteroids, or who are light-boned, sedentary, heavy smokers or heavy users of alcohol may be affected by osteoporosis.

Preventative calcium supplementation is very important in Addison’s patients. Calcium occurs in a wide variety of forms or "salts" in combination with other elements, e.g. calcium carbonate, calcium lactate, calcium gluconate, calcium orotate. Some calcium salts can cause gastro-intestinal irritation and constipation.

Calcium chloride is generally considered to be the most irritant of the commonly used calcium salts. It would be advisable to take Caltrate ( calcium carbonate) with a meal to lessen irritation. Also calcium is best taken in the evening, as this will increase the amount that is absorbed.

Other forms of calcium may cause less irritation e.g. Sandocal, which is soluble.

Does Orthoxicol or other over the counter cough mixtures interfere with my Oroxine (Thyroxine) medication?

Orthoxicol, or other cough mixtures containing pseudoephedrine may enhance the effects of thyroxine, particularly on the heart, causing it to beat more rapidly.

Cough or cold preparations containing pseudoephedrine should be avoided

Would Senega and Ammonia cough mixture effect my blood pressure?

Senega and Ammonia is quite safe to take if you have high blood pressure. It is also safe for diabetics. Senega and ammonia contains expectorants and calming agents, which produce a less tenacious cough. Other cough mixtures with pseudoephedrine should not be taken, as this may raise blood pressure.

What is the difference between Hysone and Cortate?

Hydrocortisone (Hysone) and Cortisone acetate (Cortate) are two synthetic glucocorticoids used as replacement therapy in Addison's Disease, to mimic the effects of Cortisol, the hormone normally secreted by the adrenal gland.

The main difference between Hydrocortisone and Cortisone Acetate is that Cortisone Acetate must first be metabolised in the liver to the active substance, Cortisol. It therefore takes longer to reach sufficiently high plasma levels of Cortisol taking Cortisone Acetate. Plasma levels are usually found to be lower after treatment with Cortisone Acetate than with Hydrocortisone.

I have heard that some tablets taken for epilepsy can upset the absorption of my cortisol replacement therapy. Is this true?

A number of anit-epileptic drugs commonly prescribed increase the activity of enzymes in the liver which metabolise corticosteroids. This means an increased dosage of corticosteroid (often a large increase) is needed.

Common trade names for these anti-epileptic drugs are: Tegretol, Dilantin & Prominal.

What are the disadvantages and disadvantages of the different replacement hormones?

Dexamethasone is slowest to work, but works the longest, often for more than 24 hours. Then follows Prednisone, while Cortisone Acetate and especially Hydrocortisone work swiftly, but their biological effectiveness is relatively short lived. 4-6 hours.

The degree of mineralocorticoid activity of these hormones is greatest with Hydrocortisone and least with Dexamethasone this means the choice of glucocorticoid will also influence Florinef dosage.

What are the obvious medications (if any) that a person with Addison's should be careful of taking?

There are no drugs I know of that are contra-indicated in a person with Addison's Disease.

When one is using Prednisone for Addison's Disease does one still get the same side effects as taking it for other complaints? How long does it stay in the body? I take 5mgs in the morning end 3mgs at night time.

Prednisone is an intermediate acting glucocorticoid. its effect lasts for 8-12 hours.

My daughter keeps some medication in various family members cars 'just in case', will this effect the tablets in any way?

Most medications, including hydrocortisone may be adversely affected by high temperatures. Keeping your hydrocortisone in a car would not be advisable as temperatures could easily exceed 30ºC!

If you wished to keep tablets in a car, it would be wise to keep them in a foam esky and not in direct sunlight. There are also special containers which may be purchased (usually to store angina tablets) that protect medications from high temperature.

Heat may also affect the injectable form of hydrocortisone.

Would changing the medication help mood swings?

By medication I assume you mean cortisone or hydrocortisone. The effect corticosteroids have on mood or temperament is dose related. This may be a symptom of over-substitution and an adjustment in the dosage of cortisone may be necessary. A different cortisone could cause the same problem if the dosage is too high.

Are there long-term side effects to be aware of when using Florinef?

In Addison's disease the combination of Florinef with a glucocorticoid, such as hydrocortisone or cortisone, provides substitution therapy, approximating normal adrenal activity, with minimal risks of unwanted effects. These unwanted effects may arise from:

  • Under substitution:
    • Physical Fatigue
    • Muscle Weakness
    • Nausea
    • Salt Craving
    • Low Blood Pressure

  • Over substitution:
    • Unintentional Weight Gain
    • High Blood Pressure
    • Swelling of Ankles
    • Bloated Feeling

    There is not increased risk of unwanted sects with long term therapy.

I have just been to the chemist and they were out of Florinef and I have to go back tomorrow, could they have offered me any other medication in its place?

No, There is no substitute or equivalent brand of Florinef which may be used in its place. For this reason it is important not to run right out of this, or your other Addison's medications before reordering.

Is there an optimum time for taking Florinef, so that it is well - absorbed? And should Florinef always be taken with food?

There is no optimum time to take Florinef. It is usually considered best taken with/after food, to minimize gastro-intestinal discomfort, (this is the same for glucocorticoid replacements). Florinef can be taken at different times to your other steroid dose, and/or as a split dose.

Each summer I have trouble coping with the heat, and can end in crisis. Are salt tablets a good thing to take, as well as Florinef?

If you are experiencing Addisonian crises in hot weather, your glucocorticoid dose may not be sufficient. This should be checked by a doctor. Salt tablets may be helpful, and will not interfere with your other medications.

Can you suggest a cheaper alternative to brand name electrolyte replacement drinks, to help combat summer's heat stress?

Oral Rehydration solutions contain 4 main constituents:

  • electrolytes, (typically sodium chloride and potassium chloride)
  • a Bicarbonate source (e.g. sodium bicarbonate)
  • water, to replace fluid loss
  • A carbohydrate source, which maximizes absorption of fluid and electrolytes. (e.g. glucose.)

A suggested rehydration drink would be:

  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate
  • 1 litre water.

I stick to a pretty strict low fat diet but still have high Cholesterol . Can cortisone effect Cholesterol?

Yes, cortisone therapy can increase cholesterol levels. Glucocorticoids increase the mobilisation of fatty acids from the fat deposits to active tissues. High dose corticoid therapy may induce marked increases in the levels of triglycerides circulating in the blood.

I was given Lopid to help lower my cholesterol level but this resulted in my health regressing to a state of undertreated Addison's Disease. Why would this happen?

Occasionally treatment with Lopid to lower cholesterol levels may cause myopathy - pain and weakness of the muscles. This may appear as a worsening of symptoms of Addison's Disease or add to the side effects of under-substitution. Lopid may also cause more rapid breakdown of the glucocorticoid replacement therapy.

I tried to take Celebrex for my arthritic condition, but had increased stomach discomfort. On reading the fine print, the drug company did point out that people taking steroids may suffer such side effects. Are there similar problems with other arthritis medications, especially the very new Arava ( for rheumatoid arthritis)?

Drugs such as Celebrex belong to a new group of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents known as COX-2 Inhibitors. They have been developed specifically because they are much less likely to have effects on the stomach than older type anti-inflammatories. However people who take steroid medication regularly, (or who have a history of ulcers or gastric reflux ) would need to exercise care in taking Celebrex, as effects on the stomach may still be felt.

Arava is not an anti-inflammatory, but works against diseases where the body's own immune system is involved e.g. rheumatoid arthritis. Its dose not have the effect on the stomach that anti-inflammatories do.

Is there an optimum time to take a blood sugar reading, when one is on steroid replacement? (i.e. before/after steroid, and how long between the dose and the reading?)

When someone is taking steroid replacement therapy, such as in Addison’s Disease, their blood levels should reach steady states approximating levels in a person who is producing their own cortisone. If the cortico-steroid is taken regularly, at the same times each day then blood sugar readings should also be taken at the same times each day, in relation to food and steroid intake.

Are there any "over the counter" medications that people on steroid replacement need to be wary of taking? ( e.g. antihistamines, cough syrups, etc.)

I am not aware of any OTC medications that people on steroid replacement should avoid. However Addisons' patients should not take cough mixtures containing liquorice, because of its mineralocorticoid activity.

My daughter keeps some medication in various family members cars 'just in case', will this effect the tablets in any way?

Most medications, including hydrocortisone may be adversely affected by high temperatures. Keeping your hydrocortisone in a car would not be advisable as temperatures could easily exceed 30ºC!

If you wished to keep tablets in a car, it would be wise to keep them in a foam esky and not in direct sunlight. There are also special containers which may be purchased (usually to store angina tablets) that protect medications from high temperature.

Heat may also affect the injectable form of hydrocortisone.

Each summer I have trouble coping with the heat, and can end in crisis. Are salt tablets a good thing to take, as well as Florinef?

If you are experiencing Addisonian crises in hot weather, your glucocorticoid dose may not be sufficient. This should be checked by a doctor. Salt tablets may be helpful, and will not interfere with your other medications.

Is it a problem to drink alcohol, and be on steroid treatment?

There is no direct interaction between alcohol and corticosteroids. Remember that the aim is to achieve "normal" cortisol levels in an Addisonian. A moderate intake of alcohol should pose no problem.

What is in the new medications like slow release Panadol®, and would anything in it affect those of us on steroid replacement?

Panadol Extend® is a new and longer-acting formulation of Panadol® (paracetamol). It has a duration action of eight hours, compared to four to six hours from normal paracetamol. As with other forms of paracetamol, it is safe to take while on steroid replacement.

What is in Ibruprofen, and do Addisonians need to be wary of these products, especially in the stomach department?

Ibruprofen (-brand names such as: Nurofen ®, Actiprofen®, Triprofen®, Act-3®) is a class of pain-relieving drugs known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS. These type of drugs may cause nausea, heartburn, indigestion, and abdominal cramps or pain. Aspirin also belongs to this group of drugs, while paracetamol does not. There is an increased risk of gastro-intestinal bleeding or ulceration when NSAIDS and corticosteroids are given together.

Do certain forms of contraception (e.g. the pill, implantation pellets), cause problems with hormone levels and/or medication, for women who have Primary Addison's disease?

Oral contraceptives don't pose any particular problems for Addison's patients. The oral forms are mostly oestrogen - progesterone combinations. They may cause fluid and sodium retention in some women. If so, adjustment of Florinef dosage may be required.

Also available is a long-acting pellet, which is a progesterone only formulation (Implanon®). This is implanted underneath the skin. It can affect insulin resistance and glucose tolerance. This would be of concern to Addison's patients, who are also diabetic.

I learned the hard way that taking Prednisone and Florinef together can "wash out" potassium from the body. If I take them at the same time of day, they make me feel sick. I now take the Prednisone in the am, and the Florinef at lunchtime.

Is there any chemical reason for feeling sick when taking the two together?

There is no chemical interaction that would prevent you from taking Prednisone and Florinef at the same time. However, as they both are corticosteroids, they can affect the stomach, and there could be a greater risk of ulceration.

It may be wiser to separate the doses as you suggest, particularly if only a light breakfast is taken.
It is always best to take these drugs with, or after food.

Would Dexamethasone need to be taken at a different time to Florinef?

Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid, with a longer duration of action than Prednisone. It would also not interfere with the action of Florinef.

Should people on steroids like Cortisone acetate, Prednisone, Dexamethasone, etc., be wary of taking ‘over-the-counter’ cold and flu medications containing Pseudoephedrine?

Pseudoephedrine is found in many over-the-counter medications for colds and flu, and sinus conditions. It occurs on its own, or in conjunction with pain relievers and antihistamines.

Pseudoephedrine does have effects on both the blood vessels, and the heart muscle. It causes blood vessels to constrict, with a resultant increase in blood pressure. It can also cause the heart to beat faster, causing palpitations.

For these reasons, people with high blood pressure, or heart conditions, should seek advice before using preparations containing pseudoephedrine. There are no problems for patients on corticosteroids, and no known interactions with pseudoephedrine and steroid replacements.

Would Dexamethasone and Florinef taken together, interact in the same way as Florinef and Prednisone?

No. There is no interaction between these two drugs.