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Health Hot Line... Medications work best when taken correctly

What's in your medicine cabinet? Most Americans have at least one prescription and/or over-the-counter medication in their homes. According to the American Heart Association, a majority of Americans use medication regularly, with 49 percent using...

What's in your medicine cabinet? Most Americans have at least one prescription and/or over-the-counter medication in their homes. According to the American Heart Association, a majority of Americans use medication regularly, with 49 percent using prescription meds and 30 percent using over-the-counter medication. The Centers for Disease Control reports that one in six Americans (about 17 percent) takes three or more medications daily.

Medications are created to help us get well and feel better. But, in order for them to work like they were intended, they must be taken correctly. Too often, this isn't the case, and an adverse reaction can occur. Adverse drug reactions can result in illness, hospitalization, nursing home admissions and even death.

There are a number of things you can do to make sure that the medications in your cabinet help instead of hurt you.

Each year, when you pin up your new calendar, do a thorough check of all the medications in your home. Check expiration dates and toss any medications that are past their prime. If any medications have changed in appearance, color or consistency, throw them out.

Share all information about the medications you are taking with your primary physician. Include prescription medications as well as those you purchase over-the-counter. And keep in mind, vitamins and herbal remedies are part of the mix. Tell your physician about any supplements you use. Bring a list of everything you are taking (along with the dose and the name of the prescribing physician) to your appointment. Or put all your prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, vitamins and other supplements into a container and bring them to the doctor's office.

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Be honest with your doctor about lifestyle habits. Smoking, alcohol and caffeine consumption can affect some medication and exacerbate side effects.

Ask questions - of your doctor and your pharmacist. Be sure you know the names of the medications you are taking and why you are taking them. Know potential side effects and if there are any special instructions for taking each particular medication. For instance, some medications react to others and shouldn't be taken together. Others need to be taken with food or on an empty stomach. Some medications need to be taken at a certain time of the day. Some medications are taken orally, others are topical.

Use one pharmacy for all your prescribed drugs. This helps with coordination and lessens the likelihood that you'll wind up with two prescriptions that react adversely with one another.

Take all medications exactly as prescribed. This may sound simple, but according to the American Heart Association, the number one problem in treating illness today is failure to take prescription medications correctly, regardless of a patient's age. Some of the statistics are staggering.

Taking medications correctly starts with filling your prescription promptly. According to the AHA, 12 percent of Americans fail to fill their prescriptions at all. Once you fill your prescription, take the appropriate dose. The AHA states that 22 percent of Americans take less medication than is indicated on the label, while 12 percent don't take any of the medication after they have filled their prescription. Finally, take the medication for the duration of the prescription; AHA statistics show that 29 percent of people fail to do this.

Keep track of side effects and report them promptly to your primary care physician. Side effects can be caused by one medication, or by two or more medications reacting to each other. Sometimes, side effects can seem like new symptoms or signs of aging. Mention any changes in your symptoms or condition to your physician who can help determine whether they are a side effect of your medication.

Medications can improve our quality of life immensely. They can lessen or even eliminate painful symptoms of chronic conditions and enable you to be more active and energized. But, medications are powerful, and can be a double-edged sword. If not taken correctly, they won't work as intended and can cause adverse reactions. You can ensure that your medications work for you - not against you - by working closely with your primary care physician to coordinate all the medications you are taking, and by taking them exactly as prescribed.

Dr. Rogers is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.

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