Tips for taking medicines safely

Dr Jacqueline E Campbell

Sunday, April 29, 2018

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IN my practice as a family physician, I write a significant number of prescriptions. I try my best to explain to each patient, the reasons for prescribing the medications.

Doctors are part of a health care team and as such prescriptions are filled by pharmacists, the “drug experts”. Patients have a role to play in terms of their use of medications.

The following are some tips to guide you in the ways of taking drugs safely:

1. Always ensure that the pharmacist gives you information about prescribed medications.

You should be given information about the conditions/diseases that the medications are treating and how they should be taken.

2. Use the medicines as directed on the label. Your medicine should have instructions for taking it on a label on the box or bottle.

Always follow these instructions and do not take more than the recommended dose. The label will tell you whether to take the medicine on an empty stomach, with or after food. It is important that you follow these instructions because the amount of food in the stomach affects how well the medicine is absorbed.

Additionally, some medicines can irritate the lining of the stomach and so it would be best if you take them with or immediately after eating to reduce the risk of irritation.

3. Do not “dry swallow” your medicine! Most tablets and capsules are best taken with a full glass of water.

4. Some medicines interact with certain foods or drinks. For example, dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese can interfere with medications, including antibiotics such as tetracycline, doxycycline, and ciprofloxacin.

Others (including some cholesterol and blood pressure lowering medicines) should not be taken with grapefruit juice. Hence the recommendations on the labels of some drugs to “avoid grapefruit juice”.

5. If you are taking several doses of medicines each day, it can be difficult and frustrating to decide when to take them. With most medicines, you do not have to wake up during the night to take a dose; you can spread out the doses throughout the day.

6. Taking medicines can cause reactions other than those expected. These reactions are known as “adverse drug reactions” and can be common.

For example, pseudoephedrine, which is found in many cold, cough and flu medications, may increase blood pressure. If you are hypertensive, you should avoid taking this drug.

ACE inhibitors, a class of drugs used to treat hypertension, can cause cough, and swelling of the lips, face and throat, a potentially serious condition known as angioedema. If this happens to you do not assume that it is an allergy, seek urgent medical attention.

Sometimes medicines interact with each other. This can happen in various ways: One medicine might stop another from working well, or it can increase the effect of another medicine.

Drugs can interact with herbs. Many individuals take garlic to “lower their blood pressure”. These individuals need to be aware of the potentially harmful fall in their blood pressure when garlic is taken along with their antihypertensive medications. This decrease in blood pressure can cause dizziness and falls, which in turn may result in physical injury.

7. Medicines should only be taken by the person for whom they were prescribed. When drugs are prescribed, the doctor considers your general health and symptoms. Even though your relative or friend may have the same symptoms, they may have other conditions/diseases that make your medicine unsuitable for them to take.

8. Always keep medicines in their original packaging. It can be dangerous to store medicines in an unlabelled container. This practice can be problematic if different medicines get mixed up.

Do not remove tablets or capsules that come in blister packs before you are ready to use them as some medicines do not work as well once they have been removed from the packaging and exposed to air and light.

Keep the patient information leaflet that comes in the package, this will give you important information about the medicine such as side effects and storage instructions.

9. Stop taking a medication if you experience any unusual effects. Contact your doctor or pharmacist immediately.

10. Always keep medicines out of the sight and reach of children. A locked medicine cabinet on the wall is probably the safest place to store medicines. Many individuals keep their medications in a medicine cabinet in the bathroom. This is not an ideal location as bathrooms can become hot and steamy and these conditions can interfere with the way in which the medications work.

11. Do not flush unwanted medicines down the toilet or throw them in the garbage. Do not hoard medicines if you no longer need them. Check your medicine cabinet on a regular basis and return any unused or unwanted medicines to the pharmacist for disposal or ask your pharmacist for proper ways to dispose of the medications.

Remember, if you have any questions, talk to your pharmacist.

Dr Jacqueline E Campbell is a family physician, university lecturer and pharmacologist. She is the author of the book “A patient's guide to the treatment of diabetes mellitus”.


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