Contraindication refers to a symptom or situation that makes a medical treatment or medication unsafe. It means that people with certain conditions could experience dangerous complications due to using a particular drug or treatment. It can also refer to the risk of using two medications at once.

For example, if you have diabetes or glaucoma, that is a contraindication for corticosteroid use. Likewise, taking sumatriptan is a contraindication for taking monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors because both medications act on neurotransmitters in the brain.

Contraindications are different than side effects. A side effect is an unwanted effect of taking a medication. A contraindication is something that already exists before taking a medication.

Types of Contraindications

There are two types of contraindications:

  1. Relative contraindication: A relative contraindication means that it’s best to be cautious using two medications together. In other words, proceed with caution.
  2. Absolute contraindication: An absolute contraindication means that a treatment or drug could cause a severe, life-threatening reaction or circumstance. In other words, don’t risk it unless the procedure or treatment is medically necessary.

When a contraindication is relative, your medical provider may recommend proceeding with care if the benefits of trying medication or treatment outweigh the risks.