Among a very large segment of the population that is required or advised to take medications, very few are aware of basic rules that should be imparted when prescriptions are written and filled.
Although my expertise is in the field of mental health, the principles apply to all medications. What follows are a few “commandments” for appropriate use of medications, whether prescribed or over the counter.
Always take medications exactly as prescribed or directed on the label. Unless you take enough they won’t be effective and if you take extra the chances of untoward side effects and/or allergic reactions are increased.
If you forget one dose don’t double up on the next one. Again, doing so increases risk of problematic reactions. Likewise, do not skip a dose. A sudden drop in the blood levels of some medications can cause serious problems. Depending on the type of drug these can include depression, changes in blood pressure, heart rate or numerous other troublesome or dangerous effects.
Ask your prescribing provider exactly what the medication is for, how it works and what side effects to look for. If you are still not clear, check with the pharmacist. The Internet can also be a source of information. Be sure you have thoroughly informed your provider about your allergies, as well as all other medications you take including supplements and over-the-counter drugs. Drug to drug interactions can be very complex and dangerous. Your provider knows only what you tell him/her.
Never share your medication. It may cause an allergic reaction or interact negatively with something the other person is taking. Become familiar with the names and exact dosages of your medications. You should know exactly what you are swallowing.
Be very clear about what time of day you should take which medications; and whether to take with food or on an empty stomach. Some drugs are better absorbed with food, or may cause stomach upset if the stomach is empty. Others can not be properly absorbed except when the stomach is empty. If you like grapefruit check carefully with your provider as recent research shows it interacts with and affects absorption of a number of medications.
Medications that are sedating should be taken late in the day; those that might be energizing should be taken in the morning.
Never discontinue any medication without your provider’s knowledge and guidance. Many medications, especially antidepressants, while not addictive, nevertheless produce unpleasant side effects unless carefully tapered off. Tranquilizers are addictive and if discontinued abruptly may induce dangerous and possibly life-threatening symptoms.
If at any time while taking prescription drugs you do not feel well and don’t know why, do not hesitate to contact your provider. Any rashes, aches, pains or other unusual symptoms should be reported immediately so the provider can properly advise you.
Medication can be a miraculous lifesaver, but when used in the wrong way at the wrong time in the wrong person the effects can be lethal. Many deaths are attributed to medication-related causes. We are a pill popping society. If you must take medications use them with awe and respect. The tiniest bit of chemical sometimes packs the mightiest wallop. Any questions or concerns you have are valid and should be addressed. Sometimes it is difficult to reach a provider with questions, in which case a pharmacist can help. Emergency rooms are a backup for onset of serious symptoms that may be related to your drugs. Don’t hesitate — let the experts decide.
Elinor Stanton is a psychiatric nurse practitioner on Marco Island. She has 30 years of experience as a therapist in private practice and with a large health maintenance organization in Boston. Send comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 394-2861. Visit her Web site at http://www.etseven.net.