Know Your Medications

In the last half century, prescription medications have had a major impact on our health. Infectious diseases that were a major cause of death in the early 20th century are much less threatening. We are living longer and more productive lives due to medications for blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol. Ulcers that were once treated with surgery now are cured with a simple combination of antibiotics and acid suppressants. Heart disease, cancer, lung conditions, and depression are effectively managed with medications.

But with so many new and effective medications comes greater responsibility on the part of the consumer. It’s important that patients ask their doctor what to expect with any new prescription.

When your doctor prescribes a medication, be sure you understand what it is, how long to take it and what possible side effects might occur.

For some people, even if they ask all the right questions, remembering all the details about their medications can be hard. That’s why pharmacists routinely include printed information listing the conditions for which the medication is commonly prescribed, how to take it, some possible side effects, what to do if a dose is missed and what problems should prompt a call to the doctor. Lists of side effects can be scary, but most people won’t experience any. A few people have mild side effects that go away. Serious side effects are very rare.

Pharmacists can help you better understand your medications. So take advantage of their expertise regarding prescription drugs. But remember, talking to your pharmacists is not the same as talking to your doctor. Specific concerns about your health should always be addressed to your doctor, who has the benefit of knowing your medical history and has examined you.

If you see more than one doctor on a regular basis, keep in mind that one physician may not have current information on what another has prescribed. Having your prescriptions filled by the same pharmacy allows the pharmacist to review all your medications for possible interactions and to update your doctor.

If you have a prescription plan there may be restrictions on what can be prescribed. In those cases, your pharmacist may contact your doctor to work out an acceptable alternative. In many cases a safe generic version of the medication can be substituted.

The Food and Drug Administration requires manufacturers of generic drugs to show that their version is close to the same potency as the original. The effect will be identical most of the time. You must depend on your pharmacist to obtain generic medications from high quality distributors. If a generic substitution is offered, ask the pharmacist if the supplier is reputable. If the medication is for long term use, find out if your pharmacist plans to stay with the same distributor.

Sometimes the price is the same for all strengths of a particular pill. By buying a higher strength pill and splitting it, you might save money. Your pharmacist can help you determine which medications can be split safely.

Once you’ve asked the right questions, be sure to keep track of the answers. Everyone should know the names of their medications and the condition for which they were prescribed. Referring to medications as “my blue heart pill” or “my allergy medication” can prove dangerous. Colors of pills can vary, especially with generics, and medication that is prescribed for your heart may also be designed to treat blood pressure or improve kidney function.

Check the directions on the label when you fill a prescription to be certain it matches up with what your doctor or pharmacist told you. Check the name and dosage strength. If it has changed ask your doctor or pharmacist to confirm the prescription.

NEVER share medication with family or friends. Just because they have similar symptoms, or even the same diagnosis, doesn’t mean your medication will work for them. The dosage or reason for use may be different. Someone else may also have different health issues or drug interactions than you do and could be unintentionally harmed by your medication.

With medical knowledge increasing daily, it’s likely that the use of medications will increase. By working with your doctor and pharmacist, you can be certain that your medications are safe, effective and economical for your continued health.

The American Academy of Family Physicians has a good reference page where you can find information various medications. It’s