Prescription medicines play an important role in treating many diseases and medical conditions. Your doctor may prescribe a new medicine as part of a treatment plan for a chronic disease — or to prevent underlying issues from causing further damage. For example, your doctor might prescribe statins to help lower your high cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease.
With any prescription medicine, it’s important to know how to take it properly and safely. The next time you get a new prescription, review these questions with your doctor or pharmacist. It can give you a better understanding of your medicines beyond what’s on the drug label.
Why Am I Being Prescribed This Medicine?
Be sure you understand exactly why you’re taking a new medicine. If you take more than one medicine, it’s important to know how each benefits your overall health.
When Should I Take This Medicine?
Some medicine should be taken in the morning. Others may work better if taken before bed.
How Often Should I Take This Medicine?
You may need to take your medicine several times a day. Ask the doctor about the best times for you to take each dose. You can even ask your doctor to write out a medicine schedule.
How Long Will I Be on This Medicine?
Some medicines, like insulin for diabetes, become part of your long-term health plan. Others — like antibiotics for an infection — are only needed for a short time.
Some new medicines, such as antidepressants, need adjustments. This means you’ll start at a lower dose that may be slowly increased as your system gets used to it. If your medicine requires a dosage adjustment, ask when you need to schedule a follow-up visit.
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Can You Confirm the Dose and Scheduling?
Ask if you are to take one pill twice daily or two pills once a day.
Should I Take This Medicine With Food or on an Empty Stomach?
If your doctor or pharmacist tells you to take the medicine with food, ask about food restrictions. Grapefruit juice, for example, can interfere with some heart medicines. Dairy products can interfere with the absorption of some medicines for hypothyroidism.
If you are told to take the drug on an empty stomach, ask how long to wait before or after eating.
What Are the Common Side Effects of This Drug?
Side effects can keep you from taking your medicine. Knowing the possible side effects can help you stick to your treatment plan.
How Can I Manage Those Side Effects?
Your doctor or pharmacist can provide instructions for managing any side effects.
What Side Effects Should I Be Worried About? And What Should I Do if I Have an Unusual Side Effect?
Some side effects are rare and can be cause for concern. Your doctor or pharmacist will explain what to watch for and what to do if you experience a side effect. Don’t stop taking a drug without calling your doctor or pharmacist first.
Will This Medicine Interact With Anything Else I’m Taking?
A new medicine can interfere with other medicines or supplements you take. This drug interaction can cause serious side effects.
An interaction also can stop medicines from working properly. It’s important to let your doctor or pharmacist know all the prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, and supplements you take.
What Should I Do if I Miss a Dose?
Your doctor or pharmacist can tell you what to do. It might just mean adjusting your schedule a bit. Generally speaking — if you miss a dose, don’t double up.
If I’m Pregnant or Breastfeeding, Is This Medicine Safe?
Be sure to tell your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Some drugs can harm the fetus, causing birth defects. And some drugs can pass through a mother’s breast milk, harming the baby.
Is the Medicine Available in a Different Form?
If you have difficulty swallowing large pills, your doctor or pharmacist may be able to switch you to a liquid form. If a medicine is bitter or has additives that you are allergic to, you may need a compounded version. This means the drug will be mixed and prepared specifically for you, based on the prescription from your doctor.
How Will I Know the Medicine Is Working?
Your doctor may suggest a follow-up visit or blood tests. If you take a blood thinner such as warfarin, you will have periodic blood draws to assess whether it’s working.
Is There a Generic or Cheaper Alternative?
The high cost of some drugs may stop you from filling a prescription. There may be a generic or similar medicine that costs less.
Are There Other Ways to Lower the Cost of My Medicine?
When a generic or cheaper medicine isn’t available, your doctor may be able to provide you with samples. Doctors and pharmacists often have manufacturer coupons to help you reduce cost. Ordering a 90-day supply of medicines you take regularly may save you money.
How Should I Store My Medicine?
The bathroom medicine cabinet isn’t the best place to keep most medicines. The heat and humidity can reduce the strength and effectiveness of most drugs. Medicines like insulin have to be refrigerated.
To take charge of your health, download the MyUPMC app. You can use it to view a list of medicines you’re taking and renew prescriptions with a few taps on your smartphone.
Ask Your Pharmacist About All Your Prescription and Non-Prescription Medications. American Pharmacists Association. Link.
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