Taking Medications: What You Need to Know to Stay Safe
This article provides general guidelines for taking medications including learning more about the medications you take, how and when to take them, and questions you should ask your doctor before leaving his/her office with prescriptions.
What information should I always share with my healthcare provider?
Tell your healthcare provider (your doctor, nurse, pharmacist and dentist):
- If you are allergic to any medications or have had an unusual reaction to any medication, food, or other substance
- If you are currently taking any other medications (including over-the-counter medications) or dietary supplements, such as herbal preparations, vitamins, and minerals. Eye drops should be included in your list. Some skin lotions also contain medicines.
- If you are pregnant, think you might be pregnant, or plan to become pregnant
- If you are breastfeeding
- If you are following a special diet, such as a low-sodium or low-sugar diet
- If you have any other medical problems other than the one(s) for which your medication is being prescribed
- If you have problems taking medication
Note:__ The following information is general guidelines. Be sure to ask your healthcare provider for guidelines specific to the medications you take.
What do I need to know to take my medications properly?
- Take your medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor, including at the right times and for the full length of your prescribed treatment.
- Read the package insert and/or patient product information sheet that comes with your prescription. Review possible drug side effects (ie, adverse reactions), warnings, and precautions. Although most side effects or adverse reactions occur when a new drug is just started, this is not always the case. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any unusual side effects after taking your medication.
- Know the purpose of each prescription and over-the-counter medication and dietary supplement. Also, know how they work in the body.
- Carry a list with you of the names and dosages of all your current prescription and over-the-counter medications (generic and brand names), vitamins and dietary supplements. Make copies of this list and give to ALL your caregivers – doctors, nurses, pharmacists and dentists).
- Do not stop taking your medication unless you first talk to your doctor. Stopping your medication too early can cause the illness to return, make it more difficult to treat or cause unwanted side effects.
- Talk to your doctor before starting any new prescription or over-the-counter medication.
- Ask your doctor if you need to wear medical identification for your type of medication. When taking some medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin®) or insulin, you must wear medical identification in case you need emergency medical treatment.
Can I take my medications with any beverage or foods? Can I break or crush my medications?
- Follow the label instructions carefully. Some medications need to be taken with food; others should be taken on an empty stomach.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist if there are any foods that should be avoided while taking your medication.
- If you are taking medications with water, drink a full 8-ounce glass of water. Do not just sip enough water to swallow the pills. Not drinking enough water with some medications can prevent them from working properly and can cause throat irritation.
- In most cases, you should not take any medications with alcoholic beverages. Check with your doctor for specific medication interactions, or ask your pharmacist for more information.
- Do not break, crush, or chew medications before swallowing them unless you have been instructed to do so.
- Do not take a double dose of medicine. More is not better.
When should I take my medication?
- Try to take your medications at the same time every day. Follow your doctor's orders to achieve the full benefit and lessen the possible side effects of your medications.
- Don't panic if you miss a dose of your medication. Take it as soon as you remember. If it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and return to your regular medication schedule. Do not take two doses to make up for the dose you missed.
- To help you stay on track, use pill organizers that separate your medication into the days of the week and times of day (For example one pill organizer for morning doses; one for evening doses). Fill the pill box at the beginning of each week. Always keep any remaining medications in their original containers.
Before leaving your healthcare provider’s office, know the answers to the following questions before you start taking any new medications:
- Can I take this medication while pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or while breastfeeding?
- What are the generic and brand names of the medication?
- Why do I need to take it?
- How often should I take it?
- What time of day should I take it?
- Should I take it on an empty stomach or with meals?
- Where should I store the medication?
- What should I do if I miss a dose?
- How long should I expect to take the medication?
- How will I know it is working?
- What side effects should I expect?
- Will the medication interfere with driving, working, or other activities?
- Does the medication interact with any foods, alcohol, other medications (including over-the-counter medications and/or dietary supplements), or activities?
- Do I need to be concerned about taking this drug prior to surgery or medical/dental procedure?
- Do I need to inform my doctor if I am sick and unable to take my medication?