Whether you take one pill or half a dozen or more prescriptions, managing your medications safely is important. You may think you don’t have to worry because you only take one prescription daily, but how does that pill interact with the vitamins, herbs, or over-the-counter meds you take?
It’s important to keep track of the pills you take—be they over-the-counter or prescription—and to make sure every doctor and pharmacist you visit has a full, current list. With your help, your doctor can make sure all the medicines you take work well together and that you’re not taking any pills you no longer need.
The more medicines you take, the greater your chance of having problems. Problems maybe more likely if:
- You see more than one doctor and don’t tell each one about the medicines you take.
- You use more than one drug store. Unless you tell them, those pharmacists may not know all the medicines you take.
- You’re an older adult. As you age, your body slows down. Some medicines stay in your body longer.
- One medicine gives you side effects, so you take another one to feel better.
- You take herbs or vitamins without talking to your doctor or pharmacist first.
What counts as medicine?
Just about anything you take counts, whether your doctor prescribed it, or you bought it over the counter. Many people don’t understand that herbs, home remedies, diet supplements, and vitamins can have strong effects on the body.
For example, ginseng and garlic supplements can pose a bleeding risk if you’re on anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin, Panwarfin) or an aspirin regimen.
How can you avoid problems?
- Keep your doctor informed.
- Make a list of everything you take—including pills like cold medicine or aspirin. Keep a current copy in your purse or wallet, share one with a trusted friend or family member, and take the list to each doctor or hospital visit.
- Learn about your medicines. Ask questions about every new prescription you’re given. If your doctor writes the prescription by hand, make sure you (and the pharmacist) can read it; if they submit it directly to the pharmacy, ask for a copy.
- Ask your doctor to include why you need the medicine in the prescription, for example instead of “take once a day” it should say “take once a day for high blood pressure.”
- Try to use the same pharmacy so all your prescription records are in one place.
- Read and save the information that comes with your pills.
- Store all medicines together in one designated area (dry and cool). Kitchens and bathrooms are actually not the best places to store meds because of heat and moisture.
- Toss any expired meds—ask your doctor or pharmacist for disposal options.
- Follow directions about how much medicine to take and when to take it. Know what side effects to watch out for. Keep track of your refills and when you need to pick them up.
- Regularly ask your doctor if there are any medicines you shouldn’t take or that you don’t need anymore. Never stop taking medicine without asking your doctor first.
There are lots of options to help you manage your medications. You can click here and print out blank medication tracker charts as needed. Remember to take them with you to every doctor and healthcare appointment. There are also dozens of medication management apps available to download to your smartphone or tablet, such as Medisafe, MyMedSchedule, RXmindMe and more.