Drug Contraindications and Indications

Kito Barrow, Rachel Torrens
  • Author
    Kito Barrow

    Dr. Kito Barrow has taught science subjects including Pharmacology at the undergraduate and graduate levels for around 5 years. Her doctorate in Pharmaceutical Sciences was from Texas Tech HSC. Her Bachelor’s in Biology and Master’s in Biotechnology were from the University of Texas at Dallas.

  • Instructor
    Rachel Torrens

    Rachel obtained a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Grove City College. She then earned her Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Nursing from Thomas Jefferson University. For over 8 years, Rachel has practiced as a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner, and taught science to elementary aged students.

This lesson explains drug contraindications and indications and gives examples of each. Updated: 08/16/2021

Table of Contents


What are Medication Contraindications and Indications?

Have you ever been watching television and a new drug commercial airs, stating under what conditions a drug should or should not be used? These are the drug's indications and contraindications.

An indication in a medical setting is a particular situation that requires a specific treatment or procedure. A drug's indications state the conditions, or symptoms for which the drug is approved. This includes prevention, slowing the progression of a disease, and treatment. For example, amoxicillin is indicated to treat bacterial infections, and metformin, an oral diabetes medication, is used to keep blood sugar levels in the normal range.

Contraindications are the conditions that make a medication or process not recommended. A drug's contraindications outline the reasons that a person should not receive a treatment due to potential harmful effects. One example of a contraindication to a drug is a known allergy to it or any of its components. Taking a drug when there is a known allergy can lead to an allergic reaction, which, in some situations, can be fatal.

Drug indications and contraindications are first determined by the drug's manufacturer and verified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When a prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drug is under development, the manufacturer determines the specific uses, including the doses to be used. The FDA then will evaluate the drug for these specific uses, looking at both the drug's effects and safety before granting permission for the drug to be sold in the USA.

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  • 0:04 What Is a Drug's Indication?
  • 1:37 Off-Label Uses of Medications
  • 2:51 Drug Contraindication
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Drug Indications

A drug indication is the specified condition or symptom that the drug is approve to treat, cure, diagnose or prevent.

Drug indications cover a range of considerations, such as:

  • The specific condition- For example, amoxicillin is used to treat specific bacterial infections, including sinusitis, peptic ulcer disease, and anthrax prophylaxis.
  • Dosage recommendations- The appropriate dosage for a drug is determined by the manufacturer to maximize both its efficacy and safety.
  • Frequency of doses- This means how many times the medication should be taken, for example, once per day or several times per day.
  • Length of administration- This refers to the amount of time a medication should be taken. One common mistake patients make is to abruptly stop taking medications when they start feeling better, particularly with antibiotics, which can lead to the development of drug-resistant microorganisms.
  • How a drug should be taken- There are specific conditions under which some drugs should be taken in order to decrease adverse effects or discomfort, such as taking medication with food or a glass of water.

Indication Examples

Drug indications refer to their specified uses, whether that is to treat, diagnose, cure or manage a disease and or its symptoms.

Some common medications and their indications are:

  • Naproxen- for inflammation and pain caused by arthritis or menstrual cramps
  • Methadone- for withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin addiction
  • Gabapentin- for partial seizures and neuropathic pain in adults
  • Adderall- for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Adderall bottle with prescription instructions

Adderall bottle

Drug Contraindications

Remember, drug contraindications describe the conditions under which a drug should not be taken because it may be harmful. Not only do contraindications exist for drugs, but also for devices and procedures; for example pregnant women should only get x-rays to the abdomen when the benefits outweigh the risks to the fetus.

A contraindication is not a side effect. A side effect is defined as an undesirable effect of the drug on healthy cells, tissues or organs. However, a side effect can be the result of a drug contraindication.

There are also different types of contraindications:

  • Absolute- These procedures or drugs could be life-threatening and should be avoided. One example would be the use of anticoagulants such as heparin after a recent surgery, due to increased bleeding risk.
  • Relative (also considered a precaution) - These procedures or drugs should be used with caution in situations where the benefits outweigh the risks, for example, taking antibiotics while pregnant due to the potential risks to the unborn baby.

Contraindications can include allergies, pre-existing medical conditions, age, and drug dosage.

Contraindications Examples

Examples of contraindications include:

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an example of a contraindication?

Contraindications to drugs or procedures are situations which can make the drug or procedure harmful. This includes allergies to drugs and performing x-rays on pregnant women.

What is a contraindication vs precaution?

A precaution is when the drug or procedure should be used or performed cautiously. This is a relative contraindication where the drug's or the procedure's benefits may outweigh the risks. An absolute contraindication is when the drug or procedure should never be given or performed.

Is contraindications the same as side effects?

Contraindications are not the same as side effects. Contraindications are situations where the drugs should not be taken. Side effects are the undesirable effects of the drugs.

What is another word for contraindications?

Another word for contraindications is interactions. These include drug-drug, drug-food and drug-disease interactions, all reasons why a drug or procedure should not be used or used with caution.

What is the difference between a drug contraindication and a drug precaution?

A drug precaution is when the drug should be used cautiously. This is a relative contraindication where the drug's benefits may outweigh the risks. An absolute contraindication is when the drug should never be given or performed.

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