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What does contraindication mean?

Medically reviewed by Philip Thornton, DipPharm. Last updated on Aug 16, 2023.

Official answer


Contraindication is a medical term used for a specific situation or factor that makes a procedure or course of treatment inadvisable because it may be harmful to a person.

For example, having a severe allergic or anaphylactic reaction to a medication may be a contraindication to receiving that medication again in the future. Likewise, pregnancy is often listed as a contraindication to having certain medications or procedures because of the potential harm they may cause to an unborn baby.

What are the two types of contraindications?

There are two types of contraindications including:

1. Absolute contraindications.

  • A procedure or medicine that is an absolute contraindication could cause a life-threatening situation, and must be avoided.
  • An example of an absolute contraindication is taking the medication isotretinoin during pregnancy because it can cause birth defects, miscarriage and babies to be born early.

2. Relative contraindications.

  • A procedure or medicine that is a relative contraindication, should be used with caution.
  • An example of a relative contraindication is taking a new drug that may interact with an existing drug you take. If the benefits of taking the two drugs outweighs the risks involved then it may be appropriate to take both with additional monitoring for adverse effects, for example.
  • Certain health conditions may also be a relative contraindication to a person participating in certain exercise or fitness programs. For example, high-impact fitness regimes may not be advisable for someone with arthritis and isometric exercises, such as pushups and situps, may not be advisable if you have heart disease.

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