A contraindication is a specific situation in which a drug, procedure, or surgery should not be used because it may be harmful to the patient.
There are two types of contraindications:
Relative contraindication means that caution should be used when two drugs or procedures are used together. (It is acceptable to do so if the benefits outweigh the risk.)
Absolute contraindication means that event or substance could cause a life-threatening situation. A procedure or medication that falls under this category should be avoided.
Some treatments may cause unwanted or dangerous reactions in people with allergies, high blood pressure, or pregnancy. For example, isotretinoin, a drug used to treat acne is absolutely contraindicated in pregnancy due to the risk of birth defects. Certain decongestants are contraindicated in people with high blood pressure and should be avoided.
Many medications should not be used together by the same person. For instance, a person who takes warfarin to thin the blood should not take aspirin, which is a blood thinner. This is an example of a relative contraindication.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.