HEALTH MEDICINE LEARNING CENTER
TAKING MEDICINCES SAFELY
Understanding Your Medication
If your doctor prescribes a medication for your condition, try to find out as much about it as you can, including how to take it properly. Before leaving the doctor’s office, ask the following questions and write down the answers:
Find Out How to Take the Medication
Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse about the right way to take any medicine before you start to use it. Ask questions when you don't know the meaning of a word, or when instructions aren't clear.
Here are some specific questions to ask.
Ask What to Expect
Tips for Taking Medicines Properly
Taking different medicines is not always easy to do properly. It may be hard to remember what each medicine is for, and how and when you should take each one. Here are some helpful hints about taking medicines.
Know the Active and Inactive Ingredients
Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines almost always contain several ingredients. Some of the ingredients in a medicine are not directly involved in its main job. These are called inactive ingredients. Examples of inactive ingredients include the substances that give a lozenge color or flavor, or ingredients that ensure the drug within a capsule gets released at a controlled rate.
The active ingredients in medicines are the chemical compounds that work with your body to treat your condition or bring relief of your symptoms. Learn which active ingredients are in the prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines you are taking.
Some medicines have more than one active ingredient because they are designed to treat more than one condition. Many cold and flu remedies are an example of this. They might contain a combination of ingredients to sooth a sore throat, calm a cough, stop up a runny nose and bring down a fever.
Check Your Intake of Active Ingredients
Don't take more than one medicine that contains the same active ingredient(s). For example, if your cough syrup contains acetaminophen, don’t take a pain reliever that contains acetaminophen while you are using the cough syrup. Taking more than one medicine that has the same active ingredient could result in getting too much of that ingredient. Too much of any one ingredient might damage your liver or lead to other serious health problems.
Do the Active Ingredients Have Side Effects?
Always read the labels on the over-the-counter (OTC) products you are taking to find out whether the active ingredients have side effects. For example, antihistamines can cause drowsiness. Caffeine, which is present in some over-the-counter medicines, can interact with certain drugs or can cause problems with underlying conditions such as high blood pressure.
Be Aware of Allergic Reactions
Check the labels of your prescription medicines before you start taking them to ensure you are not allergic to any of the ingredients. Make sure your doctor and pharmacist have an up-to-date list of your allergies so they don’t give you a medicine that contains something you are allergic to.
Your Pharmacist Is a Resource
Your pharmacist is an important part of your healthcare team. If you have questions about your medicine after you leave the doctor’s office, the pharmacist can answer many of them. For example, a pharmacist can tell you how and when to take your medicine, whether a drug may change how another medicine you are taking works, and which side effects, if any, you are most likely to experience. Also, the pharmacist can answer questions about over-the-counter (OTC) medications.
Filling Your Prescriptions
Try to have all your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy so your records are in one place. The pharmacist will keep track of all your medications and will be able to tell you if a new drug might cause problems. If you’re not able to use just one pharmacy, show the new pharmacist your list of medicines and over-the-counter (OTC) medications when you drop off your prescription.
When you have a prescription filled, take these steps to make sure you take your medications safely.
Medication Dispensing Aids
To help keep you on track with your medications, there are several medication dispensing aids available. These aids allow you to remember to take your medication but also aid in the proper dosage per day. Pill boxes or pill organizers are the most common form of medication aids. Medication boxes allow you to fill your medications based on an hour, week or day to ensure you are getting the correct medication. Be sure to have someone help you with this if needed to ensure accurate mediation fill. Medicine cups are also available to help measure liquid medicines or to help sort pills and tablets per dosage. Lastly, if unable to swallow whole pills, pill crushers and pill cutters are available if no liquid option is available. These allow the pill to be crushed and placed into a drink or food or cut to make swallowing easier. Pill pouches for these are also available once crushed or cut.
1 Source: National Institute of Senior Health
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