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Ask the Pharmacist: Does Taking Medications Mean I Can't Donate Blood?

Q. I take topiramate, aspirin and sumatriptan for my migraines. I would like to donate blood to help the Hurricane Katrina victims, but wonder if this is possible with these drugs?

A. I commend your efforts to assist others in need, especially as a blood donor. Blood is a resource that is seemingly always in short supply, and the disaster that struck the Gulf Coast has only heightened the need. Individuals with type O blood are especially encouraged to give, because any other patient can use this type of blood. I checked the Web site for a blood bank located here in Chicago. Their requirements are that you must 1) weigh at least 110 pounds, 2) be in good physical health, 3) be at least 17 years old, and 4) have not given blood within the last eight weeks.

You can consume medications and still donate blood, although there are some exceptions. The good news is that virtually all of these exceptions are drugs that are not used to treat headache, such as certain cancer and biotech medications. If you have recently received blood, you may also be prohibited from donating. The various blood banks around the country set guidelines as to which medications are not permitted, so you would need to speak with your local agency to obtain conclusive information.

During your donation visit, the blood bank will review your medications. This is the time to list all your drugs, including over-the-counter and herbal medications. This information will normally be sent along with the bag containing your blood to ensure that the blood is used correctly. For example, a patient allergic to topiramate is a poor candidate for your blood.

Regarding your specific medications, I cannot find any information to suggest you are unable to donate. Since aspirin can affect platelets, all patients should tell the blood bank about taking it or any blood thinner drugs, again to ensure the blood is given to an appropriate recipient.

Every unit of blood collected can potentially help three or more people who are ill. Your donation will be a wonderful gesture of assistance. Please consider donating throughout the year.

Countering Dry Mouth

Q. Elavil (amitriptyline) has worked wonders for my headaches. However, I need to suck on candy all the time to try to moisten my mouth. It’s really bad. Will this get better, or should I switch medications?

A. Amitriptyline belongs to a group of medications called tricyclic antidepressants, or TCAs. This term is somewhat misleading because these drugs can be effective for a variety of illnesses besides depression, including helping diabetic patients with damaged nerves, as well as migraine and chronic headaches.

In pharmacy school I was taught an acronym for the side-effects of TCAs: S-L-U-D. This stands for salivation, lacrimation (tearing from the eyes), urination and defecation. TCAs slow down all these normal body functions, potentially causing dry mouth, blurred vision, difficulty urinating and constipation. These problems tend to occur soon after beginning therapy. In many instances, these problems improve after a few weeks, and even completely stop once the body adjusts to the drug. However, SLUD issues can persist for some patients.

Dry mouth can fluctuate in severity, from being a minor nuisance to affecting your ability to have a normal conversation. There are several options to help improve this problem. First and foremost, drink plenty of water every day since adequate hydration is a key component of any treatment. Please keep in mind that juices, sodas and other drinks that contain large amounts of sugar are poor substitutes for water.

Frequently chewing on small ice cubes can help with hydration and moisten your mouth. Candy and gum may help, but it is best to use the sugarless brands, as they will decrease your chances of developing a cavity. You can also purchase a saliva substitute at your local pharmacy; this is a thick liquid squirted into the mouth. Proper oral hygiene is essential. Be sure to brush your teeth after every meal, floss daily and see your dentist on a regular basis.

If these measures don’t provide relief, speak with your healthcare provider. Prescription medications that specifically counteract SLUD problems are available.

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