Following These Simple Safety Tips Can Help You Get the Most Benefit From Your Medications
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Following These Simple Safety Tips Can Help You Get the Most Benefit From Your Medications

the potential for serious side effects and interactions from your medications can increase dramatically if you aren't taking simple safety precautions

July 20, 2021

Everyone has taken a medication at one time or another, whether to dull a pounding headache or to eradicate a bacterial infection. As more Americans are taking multiple medications at once, medication safety is more important than ever. We should be mindful of potential interactions between drugs and the other things we put into our bodies, as well as the basics of taking medications the right way.

Take Medicine as Prescribed

Taking medication as it was prescribed is the rule, but that rule doesn't always get followed. In fact, many people skip doses, abruptly stop taking medication without consulting the prescribing doctor, or take medication prescribed to someone else. Any of these situations can be dangerous, potentially causing unforeseen effects. Don't stop taking your medication unless advised by a doctor, even if you're feeling better or think it isn't working. If you are having side effects, talk to your doctor about them. And don't take medication prescribed to someone else. It can cause dangerous interactions with other medications or other adverse side effects depending upon your health.

Taking the medication

It may sound silly, but turning on the lights and putting on your glasses is the first step to making sure you're taking the right medication. If you have multiple pill bottles or pill sizes and shapes are similar, you can easily mistake one medication for another. Make sure you are checking the label each time to ensure you've got the right medication and never take extra doses, especially with pain medication.

Medication Errors

Pharmacists are people, too. And everyone makes mistakes. So when you get your prescriptions filled, make sure you are getting your prescription by checking the name on the label. If the name is correct, make sure the medication is the one the doctor prescribed. It can be easy for a pharmacist to mistake sloppy handwriting and give you the wrong medication or to mistaken fill a medication with a similar name. If your doctor prescribed alprazolam, for example, the pharmacist may accidentally give you a medication that sounds similar, such as lorazepam or clonazepam.

You should also be checking to make sure that the medication in the container is the medication described on the label. The medication label will describe the medication, which may include the shape, color and imprinting. If the medication label says the pill is white but you have blue pills, there is a problem and you should not take it. Similarly, if you have multiple sizes, shapes, colors, etc in one container, you should not take it. Pharmacists sometimes dispense weaker strengths of a medication when the prescribed strength runs out. In this case, the pharmacist should consult with you and the directions should be updated to reflect the change, such as taking two of the weaker dose instead of one of the original dose. If this occurs, the different medications should never be mixed in one container since the label will indicate how to take only one of them, increasing the possibility that you may take the wrong amount of medication.

Keep a Medication List

We don't like to think of emergencies, but they do happen and usually at the most inconvenient times. While you may think you will be able to tell first responders about the medications you take, stress and anxiety can cause you to forget them. Moreover, if you are unconscious, there is no way for you to communicate your medications and medical history. For this reason, it's a good idea to have an up-to-date list of all medications and dosages with you, especially when traveling far from home. You should also consider giving a copy to a friend or loved one you trust so this person can communicate them to medical professionals. Don't forget to write down why you are taking a particular medication, how often you take the medication, and to update the medication if the dosage or frequency changes.

Be aware of Potential Drug Interactions and Side Effects

Drug interactions can occur when:

  • One drug affects how another drug works;
  • A medical condition you have makes a certain drug work differently;
  • Herbal preparations or supplements affect the action of a drug;
  • A food or non-alcoholic drink reacts with a drug;
  • An alcoholic drink interacts with a drug.

Read all drug information carefully when you get your prescription, including the possible interactions and side effects. If you have any questions, you can talk to your doctor or pharmacist. If you are seeing more than one doctor, make sure to let each one know about all medications, herbal preparations and supplements you take as it could affect which medications you are prescribed. It's a good idea to get all of your medications filled at the same pharmacy so the pharmacist can keep an eye out for potential interactions.

Some medications can cause side effects that appear similar to the health problems that typically occur in older adults, such as memory difficulties. So don't forget to ask your healthcare provider if any new health problems you are experiencing could be due to the medications you are taking.

Supplements can be deadly

Drug interactions are always a possibility, which is why we need to be communicating with our medical teams about everything we take, not just medications. Something that seems innocuous, including vitamins, dietary supplements, and herbal supplements, can lead to serious health consequences. So make sure to tell your doctor about any supplements you may take, including vitamins, herbs, and even protein powders.

There is a widespread public perception that herbs and botanical products in supplements are safe. But these products have the same dangers as medications. Interactions can occur between these supplements and prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, other dietary supplements, and even small molecules in food. This makes it extremely difficult to properly identify all interactions that may occur.

Review Medications with Your Health Care Provider

You should be discussing all medications and dietary supplements that you take with your doctor at each visit, especially if you have medications from multiple providers. This is to ensure that potential interactions don't slip through the cracks, that the medications you take are still necessary, that dosages are still accurate, that multiple medications can be replaced by a single medication that does the same job, or that your medication can be updated if a new treatment becomes available that does a better job. Reviewing your medications with your doctor at least once per year can help you avoid interactions, reduce side effects, and lower costs.