Whether we are dealing with the latest flu bug, the declining health of aging Baby Boomers or a wide range of other physical and mental illnesses, with the help of medications many conditions can be controlled, improved or even cured. Prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines and various supplements, all have the potential to impact our health positively or negatively, depending on how well they are managed. By taking some simple steps to assure the appropriate use of our medications, we can increase the chance of a healthy outcome.
Keep your medication list current.
The first step in managing your medications is to make an updated list of everything you take regularly and review it with your healthcare provider. In addition to prescription drugs, include vitamins, other supplements, aspirin (and all pain relievers), laxatives, cold medicines, and any other non-prescription medicines. You should also tell your physician the time of day you are taking each medication. How you take your medicines can have a huge impact on their safety, as well as how efficiently they will work.
Jonethan Morris, Registered Pharmacist and Mississippi Pharmacist Association member, notes just a few of the hazards of drug interactions. “As an example, some vitamins and over-the-counter pain medications can react negatively with blood thinners,” notes Morris. “Decongestants can raise your blood pressure, which can be a serious issue if you already have problems with hypertension or asthma.”
Drug interactions can result from many different combinations of medicines and can pose everything from serious risks to minor issues that still should be addressed. In some cases, two medications or supplements inappropriately taken together can simply reduce the effectiveness of one or both.
Keep your current list of medications taped inside the cabinet door where your drugs are stored, on the refrigerator, or wherever it is handy. Keep another copy in your wallet or purse and give copies to close family members so they will have them in case of an emergency. Need to update your list? An easy-to-use medication form can be found at www.AARP.org/ CreateTheGood. Click the “How-to-guides” tab, scroll to Rx Snapshot then click “Go to the How to Guide.”
At the very least, your medication list should give the name of the prescription/ OTC medicine and the dosage (in mg), the amount to take and time of day to take it, the reason you are taking it (for high blood pressure, cholesterol, arthritis, etc.), and any special instructions or warnings.
Use one pharmacy for all of your prescriptions.
Make sure all of your prescriptions are at one pharmacy so your pharmacist can check for potential drug interactions with each new medication. If you utilize several different drugstores to fill your prescriptions, the persons filling them are less likely to have access to your entire medication history.
Store your medications properly.
Improper storage of medicines, especially in areas of temperature change and humidity, can affect their potency. Morris suggests keeping your medications in tightly sealed containers in a dry area away from the stove, sink or dishwasher and other sources of heat and light. You should refrigerate them when specified.
“The bathroom medicine cabinet is not a good idea because the heat and humidity caused by showers or baths can break down the medicine, causing lower potency, or in rare cases, toxicity,” Morris explains.
Never stop taking a prescription medicine without discussing it first with your physician.
Sometimes the temptation to discontinue a prescription might arise, but Morris offers words of caution, “There are certain drugs if quit “cold turkey” instead of being weaned off, can cause serious problems. With drugs like Prozac or a blood pressure medication, a certain level of the medicine builds in your system over time. Just as it slowly builds up, you need time for it to slowly dissipate so your body can adjust to the change,” he adds. “Doing otherwise might cause a rebound effect, and in some cases the blood pressure, anxiety, depression, or whatever was being treated might actually be worse than when you started. Talk with your healthcare provider before making any changes.”
Know your medications.
With each new medication you acquire, educate yourself on how it will work best. Here are some questions you should ask your doctor or pharmacist.
For seniors and their caregivers, here are some additional suggestions for managing medications.
“If you have questions about a medicine, or if you think you are experiencing a side effect or drug interaction, it is very important to contact your doctor or pharmacist right away,” Morris concludes.
Understanding what to expect of your prescriptions, as well as taking and storing them properly, can help to assure you are using these powerful tools wisely and safely, and can go a long way in helping you maintain your health and quality of life.
Medication Safety Reminder
Let your doctor and pharmacist know your complete medical history and any allergies or sensitivities you have.
Make sure you know everything you can about your medications before you begin taking them.
Find the facts:
Besides asking your physician and your pharmacist, you can get additional facts about a medication from the drug manufacturer, the library or the Internet.
Evaluate the benefits and risks:
With the help of your doctor and other members of your healthcare team, you can make informed decisions about your medical treatment, including medications.
Read the Labels:
Make sure you always carefully follow the instructions on the label. If it is unclear, ask your doctor or pharmacist for clarification.