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Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Life - October 2009

Take the Time to Talk About Your Prescriptions
Do You Know What You Need to Know to Be Safe?

Did you know that you shouldn't eat grapefruit if you take certain prescription medications to control your cholesterol, or that some cholesterol medications are more effective when taken at night? Are you aware that you shouldn't take certain anti-infection drugs within two hours of eating dairy products, or that regular over-the-counter antacids can render some thyroid medications ineffective? Do you know everything you should know about the medicine you take? More importantly, how can you find out?

Americans spend more than $220 billion each year on prescription medications, then spend an another $177 billion to address problems caused by them.Talk about your prescriptions. According to the National Council on Patient Information and Education, Americans spend more than $220 billion each year on prescription medications, then spend an another $177 billion to address problems caused by them. Many of these costly problems can be avoided through simple conversations with your health care providers, your pharmacist and even friends and family.

The logical place to start a conversation about your prescriptions is your doctor's office. It's probably safe to assume that your doctor is familiar with the medications he prescribes and many physicians make it a practice to discuss new prescriptions with their patients. Areas covered include what the medicine is intended to treat, how to take it properly, and potential side effects and interactions. Don't assume, however, that he has told you everything you need to know. Doctors have information on hundreds of drugs in their heads and see hundreds of patients. It's possible he could forget to tell you something important or overlook a vital fact.

Don't be a passive patient. While you have the doctor's attention, get as much information from him as you can. Some good questions that the doctor may not always cover include:

  • "When should I take the medicine and for how long will I take it?"
  • "What should I do if I accidentally miss a dose?"
  • "How and when will I know if the medicine is working? What should I do if it doesn't seem to be working?"
  • "What should I do if I experience side effects?"
  • "Can this drug interact with any other prescriptions I take?" (It's a good idea to always have a list of the drugs you take, especially if you see more than one doctor.)
  • "Which over-the-counter medicines and foods should I avoid while taking this drug?"
  • "What activities should I avoid while taking this drug?"
  • "How should I store or dispose of this medicine?"
  • "Are there other treatment options, including other medicines, herbal remedies and lifestyle treatments, that may have the same results with fewer or less severe side effects?"

Even if you have taken a prescription for some time, get the answers to these questions if you don't already know them.

Another good person to talk to is your pharmacist. She should have the same information about the drugs you take as your doctor, but may not know as much about your medical condition. Nonetheless, she can answer your questions, especially about how and when to take the medicine and possible side effects. Even if the pharmacy is really busy, the pharmacist should give you the attention you need to take your medicine safely. If she doesn't, maybe it's time for a new pharmacy.

You also can learn a great deal about the medicines you take by talking to friends and family members who take the same drugs or have similar conditions to yours. You may learn about side effects you didn't know, alternate treatments and more. Take all of this information from others to your doctor or pharmacist for verification - it's not that you can't trust your friends to give you reliable information, but when your health is involved, don't take chances. Most importantly, do not discontinue taking a drug or change the way you take it without consulting your doctor or pharmacist first.