Taking your medicines properly will not only speed your recovery and generally improve your health, but help to avoid any serious or fatal interactions or overdoses. Ask your pharmacist about ways to improve your compliance.

What you need to know about your medicines

There are a number of things that you should know about each medicine you are taking. These include:

  • The medicine's generic and brand name.
  • How the medicine will help you and the expected results. How it makes you feel. How long it takes to begin working.
  • How much to take at one time.
  • How often to take the medicine.
  • How long it will be necessary to take the medicine.
  • When to take it. Before, during, after meals? At bedtime? At any other special times?
  • How to take it. With water? With fruit juice? With food?
  • What to do if you forget to take it (miss a dose).
  • Foods, drinks, or other medicines that you should not take while taking the medicine.
  • Restrictions on activities while taking the medicine, such as driving a car or operating other motor vehicles.
  • Possible side effects. What to do if they appear. How to minimize the side effects. How soon they will go away.
  • When to seek help if there are problems.
  • How long to wait before reporting no change in your symptoms.
  • How to store the medicine.
  • The expiration date.
  • The cost of the medicine.
  • How to have your prescription refilled, if necessary.

Other information

Following are some other issues and information that you may want to consider:

  • Ask your health care professional about the ingredients in the medicines — both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription — you are taking and whether there may be a conflict with other medicines. Your health care professional can help you avoid dangerous combinations or drug products that contain ingredients to which you are allergic or sensitive.
  • Ask your health care professional for help in developing a system for taking your medicines properly, particularly if you are taking a number of them on a daily basis. When you are a patient in a hospital, ask for instructions before you are discharged. Do not hesitate or be embarrassed to ask questions or ask for help.
  • If you are over 60 years of age, ask your health care professional if the dose of the medicine is right for you. Some medicines should be given in lower doses to certain older individuals.
  • If you are taking several different medicines, ask your health care professional if all of them are necessary for you. You should take only those medicines that you need.
  • Medicines should be kept in the container they came in. If this is not possible when you are at work or away from home, ask your pharmacist to provide or recommend a container to transport your medicines safely. The use of "pill boxes" can also cause some problems, such as broken or chipped tablets, mistaking one medicine for another, and even interactions between the medicine and the metal of these boxes.
  • Some people have trouble taking tablets or capsules. Your health care professional will know if another dosage form is available, and if tablet or capsule contents can be taken in a liquid. If this is an ongoing problem, ask your prescriber to write the prescription for the dosage form you can take most comfortably.
  • To protect children from accidental poisoning, child-resistant caps are required by law on most oral prescription medicines. These containers are designed so children will have difficulty opening them. Since many adults also find these containers hard to open, the law allows consumers to request traditional, easy-to-open packaging for their drugs. If you do not use child-resistant packaging, make sure that your medicines are stored where small children cannot see or reach them. If you use child-resistant containers, ask your pharmacist to show you how to open them.

Consumer education is one of your health care professional's most important responsibilities. To supplement what you learn during your visit, ask if there is any written information about your medicines that you can take home with you. Your health care professional may also have available various reference books or digital drug information (like this website!) that you can consult for details about precautions, side effects, and proper use of your medicines.

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