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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:  

  • What is the name of the medicine and why am I taking it?  
  • What medical condition does this medicine treat?  
  • How does it treat my condition?  
  • What is the name of its active ingredient?  
  • Did you check that it doesn’t contain anything I’m allergic to?  
  • How should I store the medication? Does it need to be refrigerated or kept from direct light?  
  • Can the pharmacist substitute a less expensive, generic form of the medicine?  

  • 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.  

  • Should I take it as needed or on a schedule?  
  • Should I take it at a certain time of day?  
  • How much should I take each time?  
  • Do I need to take it with food?  
  • Do I need to drink a full glass of water with it?  
  • May I drink alcohol while on this medication?  
  • How long will I have to take it?  

  • Ask What to Expect

  • How will I feel once I start taking this medicine?  
  • How will I know if this medicine is working?  
  • If I forget to take it, what should I do?  
  • What side effects might I expect? Should I report them?  
  • Can I safely mix this medicine with the remedies, vitamins, and over-the-counter drugs I am taking?  

  • 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.  

  • Check the label on your medicine before taking it to make sure that it is for the correct person -- you.  
  • Read and save any written information that comes with the medicine.  
  • Take the medicine according to the schedule on the label.  
  • Don't take more or less than the prescribed amount of any medicine.  
  • If swallowing tablets is difficult, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether there is a liquid form of the medicine or whether you could crush your tablets. However, do NOT break, crush, or chew tablets without asking a health professional first.  
  • Get into the habit of checking the expiration dates on your medicine bottles, and throw away medicine that has expired.  
  • Try to set and follow a routine for taking your 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.  

  • Tell the pharmacist if you have trouble swallowing pills. There may be liquid medicine available. Do not chew, break, or crush tablets without first finding out if the drug will still work.  
  • Make sure you can read and understand the name of the medicine and the directions on the container and on the color-coded warning stickers on the bottle. If the label is hard to read, ask your pharmacist to use larger type.  
  • Check that you can open the container. If not, ask the pharmacist to put your medicines in bottles that are easier to open.  
  • Ask about special instructions on where to store a medicine. For example, should it be kept in the refrigerator or in a dry place?  
  • Check the label on your medicine before leaving the pharmacy. It should have your name on it and the directions given by your doctor. If it doesn’t, don’t take it, and talk with the pharmacist. 1 

  • 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

    This content is provided for informational purposes only. has not verified the accuracy of the information contained in this article, which is presented on an “as is” basis.  It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, examination, diagnosis or treatment.  Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before starting any new treatment or vigorous physical activity or making any changes to existing treatment or activities. Do not delay seeking or otherwise disregard medical advice based on the content presented here.   The product information contained in this document, including the product images and additional product materials, was collected from various supplier sources. All product claims and specifications are those of the product suppliers and have not been independently verified by Simply Medical. Simply Medical is not responsible for errors or omissions in the product information.   All trademarks and registered trademarks are the property of their respective owners. © 2016 All Rights Reserved.