Three things pharmacists should know about Ramadan

July 22, 2013

Many Muslims in America recently began their annual celebration of Ramadan, which for many includes fasting or long stretches without eating or drinking. This year, Ramadan began on July 9th and will end on August 7th. For Muslims with chronic illnesses, this can present significant risks.

Many Muslims in America recently began their annual celebration of Ramadan, which for many includes fasting or long stretches without eating or drinking. This year, Ramadan began on July 9th and will end on August 7th.

For Muslims with chronic illnesses, this can present significant risks. Mohamed Amin, a University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy graduate student, has studied the issue and recently presented his findings before the American Pharmacists Association and American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.

He said pharmacists should play a vital role with Muslims seeking to observe Ramadan; especially those with chronic illnesses, including helping them adjust their medications during the fasting period. According to Amin, keys to serving this population include:

Recognizing it exists. There are an estimated 2 million Muslims in America and the population is growing. "In a city like Dearborn, Mich., where there are large numbers of Muslims, there should be notes in patient histories, in refill instructions," Amin said. "We should be seeing pamphlets about Ramadan in pharmacies around the world."

Starting conversations with patients early. “Pharmacists are telling us most discussions with patients occur in the first week of Ramadan or one to three days before. That's just too late," Amin said. "Fasting patients may adjust their medications regimens on their own, and then come in with a resulting health problem….The key for effective communication is that health professionals apply principles of culturally congruent and respectful care to fasting Muslim patients. It should start with an open-ended, low-pressure question: What are your plans for Ramadan?”

 

Advising patients on common-sense limits. "Patients may be afraid of what the pharmacist or doctor will say, and not without reason. More often than not, they will say, 'It's too much of a risk. You should not fast,'" Amin said. "But whether or not patients are willing to consider not fasting, they do need to know when they should break the fast for health reasons - when their blood sugar, for example, reaches a point at which they should break their fast no matter the time of day."

Amin said schools of pharmacy and medicine need to do a better job of making students aware of cultural and religious traditions that affect patients.

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