A factor that makes it inadvisable to use a drug, procedure, or other type of treatment in a given individual. On prescription drug labels, which doctors use as a guide when considering which drug to prescribe, these factors are listed in a section called “Contraindications.” The label for methotrexate, for example, says that a woman with rheumatoid arthritis who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant should not use the drug because it can cause birth defects. So does the label for leflunomide (Arava). The label for celecoxib (Celebrex) says that anyone who’s had an allergic reaction to a sulfonamide (a class of drugs used to treat certain infections, among other things) should not take Celebrex.

On the labels for over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, contraindications are listed in a section called “Do not use.” The label for Tylenol Arthritis Pain (acetaminophen), for example, says “Do not use with any other product containing acetaminophen.” (That’s because if you take too much acetaminophen, you can damage your kidneys or liver.) To avoid possible pitfalls, don’t buy an OTC drug without reading the label.

Let your doctors know about all of your medical conditions, as well as all of the medicines you’re taking, so that they can spot any potential contraindications. In many cases, they can switch you from one medicine to another that may be safer for you.

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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