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Questions to Ask Your Pharmacist Before You take Your Medicines

It is extremely important that you understand the medicines that your doctor prescribes for you. To be sure you have all of the information you need, ask your pharmacist these questions about your medications.

Because these are questions that you should ask, you will see that this sheet does not always answer them. Instead, each question is followed by a short explanation of why you need to ask the question. Get the answers by asking your pharmacist.

1. What is the name of the medication, and what is it supposed to do?
You should know the names and intended use of all your medications. Because you may see more than one physician, you should always tell your doctors about other medications you are taking, including non-prescription drugs, herbal remedies, teas, dietary supplements, vitamins, and minerals. This will ensure that the medication you take — both prescription and non-prescription — is appropriate for your condition. If you are taking medicines for long-term conditions, it may be helpful to keep a list of all of your medicines, their dosages, and the reason you are taking them.

2. When and how do I take it?
Taking your medication correctly is very important so that it can give you the help you expect. Examples of questions you might ask are:

Should I take this medication on an empty stomach or with food?
How often should I take it?
Do I take it at the same time every day?
How long should I take it?
Serious problems may result from not taking all your medication or by continuing medications too long. It is very important that some medications, such as antibiotics, be taken for the prescribed length of time. Patients must not stop taking medicines before the time period prescribed because they feel better.
Some medicines may need to be stopped by lowering the dose a little at a time. This is called tapering the dose. It is done to avoid side effects that can occur if you stop taking the drug all at once. If you always use the same pharmacy, the pharmacist will be able to follow your drug therapy more closely and check on your prescription refills.

3. Does this medication contain anything that can cause an allergic reaction?
If you always use the same pharmacy, the pharmacist will become more familiar with your medical history and can help you avoid allergic reactions to the drug or to inactive ingredients in your medications. Also, please let the pharmacist know if other people in your family have had severe allergic reactions to certain medicines.

4. Should I avoid alcohol or any foods?
Some medicines are known to interact with alcohol or food, resulting in an increased or decreased effect of the drug. In some instances, the interaction may be harmful. Before taking any new medicine, always ask your pharmacist if it will interact with alcohol or food.

5. Can I take non-prescription drugs, herbal medicines, or other drugs with this medicine?
Many non-prescription drugs can interact with prescription medication. At times, the interactions can produce unwanted and even serious side effects. Although often thought of as “natural,” several herbal products contain ingredients that can also cause significant interactions with prescription medication. Never begin taking a new medication — prescription, non-prescription, or herbal — without asking your pharmacist if it will interact with your other medicines. It is important to tell your doctor about other drugs or herbals you are taking before he or she plans a new treatment for you.

6. Should I expect any side effects?
All medicines can cause side effects, but they are not necessarily serious. Your pharmacist and physician can help you understand these side effects and help you deal with them. If you experience unexplained side effects, contact your physician or pharmacist.

7. What if I forget to take my medication or take a dose incorrectly?
Try to follow the directions as closely as possible. If you think you might have trouble with this, ask your pharmacist about special boxes and other devices to help you remember.

If you realize that you may have taken a dose incorrectly, notify your physician immediately. The decision to make up a missed dose depends on the drug. Ask your pharmacist his or her advice when you have the prescription dispensed. You should know the answer to this question before it happens.

8. Is it safe to become pregnant or breast-feed while taking this medication?
Women should consider the possible side effects of medications when planning a pregnancy, during pregnancy, or when nursing a baby. Most drugs cause no problems, but others can cause birth defects when the mother takes them early in pregnancy. Although they are usually safe, most drugs pass through a mother’s system into breast milk. Therefore, expectant mothers should ask their pharmacist or physician before using any prescription, or non-prescription, or herbal medications.

9. How should I dispose of used needles and syringes?
Keep used needles in a closed box so that no one gets stuck with them. Contact your local rubbish disposal company for the proper procedure to follow for disposal of used needles.

10. How should I store my medications, and how long can I keep them?
Medicines may lose their effectiveness if you don’t store them correctly. The medicine cabinet in the bathroom is not a good place to keep medications because of the moisture and heat. Don’t store medicines on the bottom shelf of any cabinet that has under-the-cabinet lighting. The light is a source of heat, which can damage medicines. Select a cool, dry area for storage of your medicines. Make sure they are stored safely away from young children.

Some medicines will have special storage requirements, such as refrigeration. Always check all of the labels on the medicine bottle or package for these instructions. You should get rid of any medication that has expired, or you are no longer taking. Flush pills and liquids down the toilet. For prescription drugs, the expiration date may be listed on the prescription label or another label. For non-prescription or herbal medications, the expiration date may be found on the container or package. Ask your pharmacist about the proper storage and the expiration date of all of your medications.

Pharmacists also provide additional services that can help you understand your condition and how to manage it and your medication. Ask your pharmacist questions. He or she is trained to serve as your medication consultant.


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