No matter what your age or condition, there are several fundamental rules to follow when considering medication safety:
Tell your physician about all aspects of your medical history:
- If your physician is treating you for a cold or for cancer, he or she needs to know your medical history. In particular, inform your physician about any chronic disease you have (especially heart disease, hypertension, or glaucoma), whether you are taking prescription medications, and whether you are allergic to certain drugs for your overall medication safety.
- In such instances, a prescription that for most people is entirely safe could be life threatening. Advise your physician of any over-the-counter (OTC) drugs you’re taking, including laxatives; aspirin or acetaminophen; cough, cold, or hay fever medications; or mineral or vitamin supplements.
- Nonprescription drugs can be potent and may cause serious reactions when mixed with prescription drugs. This is important for medication safety, because for some people a dose of OTC drugs may need to be less than the amount recommended on the label, especially in elderly or in the very young.
- Tell your physician if you are or are planning to become pregnant. Numerous drugs can cross the placenta to your unborn fetus; some can result in birth defects. Your physician may change her medication if you are pregnant or breast-feeding to avoid affecting your fetus or child.
- Tell your physician how much alcohol you consume. Be accurate: do not underestimate your consumption.
Don’t fall into the more-is-better trap:
Take the prescribed amount of your medication. Taking more, or less, can result in serious problems. Anyone who uses more than the recommended dosage is in danger of an overdose. Do not stop taking a drug just because your symptoms seem to lessen. Take your medications for the entire length of time prescribed, even if symptoms for which you are taking the drug have disappeared. If you have questions, call your doctor or pharmacist.
Read the label carefully and make sure the instructions are clear:
For example, if your prescription says, “take three times a day after meals,” do not take medication twice or four times a day. “Four times a day” could mean that you should take your medication with every meal and at bedtime. Or, it could mean that you should take it at precise 6-hour intervals around the clock.
Never take medications in the dark:
This is a potentially dangerous practice. You can lead you to take the wrong medication or the wrong quantity. A missed dose of one drug or too much of another can be hazardous to your health.
Avoid mixing drugs and alcohol:
Use of many drugs along with alcohol can cause harmful interactions. In particular, sedatives and tranquilizers pose a danger. Discuss your consumption of alcohol with your physician. Ask whether there are risks of interactions with medicines prescribed for your use. This is critical for medication safety.
Inform your physician of side effects:
Discuss any side effects with your physician immediately. If the drug makes you nauseous, if you experience headache, dizziness, blurred vision, ringing in your ears, or shortness of breath, or if you develop hives, consult your physician immediately. It may be a reaction to the medication.
Be familiar with your medications:
- Remember names of medications you are taking.
- Read labels carefully.
- Ask your physician or pharmacist how the drug works.
- Make a special effort to understand their explanation.
- Ask your physician or pharmacist about potential side effects, about any dietary restrictions you should follow, whether you should avoid alcohol while taking the drug, or if there are other concerns of which you should be aware.
- If you get a prescription refilled and it appears different from what you have been taking, ask your pharmacist why.
Have prescriptions filled at one pharmacy:
This can help avoid problems with drug interactions. Your pharmacist is trained to know how drugs work and interact. By dispensing each of the prescription drugs you purchase, your pharmacist can help monitor the mix of medications, even if they are prescribed by different physicians. He or she also can advise you when to take your medicines and how to take or use them properly. Your pharmacist also may alert you to possible side effects and tell you what to do in case of an adverse reaction. Your pharmacist can also help you select over-the-counter drugs that won’t interfere with your prescription drugs.
Store and dispose of medications properly:
Keep medicines out of the reach of children; do not save old medications past their expiration date. Do not share prescription medications with others. The purpose of controlling the availability of prescription drugs is to ensure that appropriate medications are given two people who can tolerate, need, and will be helped by them. A well-intentioned friend or relative with leftover pills is a poor substitute for a physician who is familiar with your medical history.
In Summary – Medications: Some basic Dos and Don’ts:
Do store medications properly.
Most require a dry, secure place at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. Some drugs need refrigeration. A bathroom medicine cabinet is a poor place to store medications because of temperature and moisture variations.
Do keep drugs out of reach of children.
When visiting people with children, make sure your purse doesn’t contain pills.
Do discard outdated medications, prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines.
Old medicine can lose its potency and sometimes become toxic.
Don’t lend or share prescription drugs. What helps you might harm others.
Don’t fall into the more is better trap.
Take the prescribed amount of your medicine. Taking more or less can result in serious problems. Don’t take a medication in the dark. You may take the wrong pill or the wrong amount.
If you have questions or concerns about your medication or health situation call your doctor. Following these tips and your doctors and pharmacist’s advise can assure medication safety for you and your loved ones!