Get the most from your medicationsFollow these dos and don'ts for taking prescription and nonprescription medications to stay safe and improve their effectiveness.
- use medications only if nondrug approaches are not working.
- check with your doctor or pharmacist before you start taking any over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies, or supplements.
- know the benefits and side effects of a medication before taking it.
- take the minimum effective dose.
- report any side effects to your doctor.
- keep a list of all the medicines, over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies, and supplements you take. Share the list with your doctor during office visits.
- follow the prescription instructions exactly or let your doctor know why you didn't. Ask questions if the instructions aren't clear to you.
- keep medications tightly capped in their original containers, and store them as directed.
- take all the medicine prescribed for you.
- have a system to keep track of your medicines if you take several. For example, mark a chart when you take a medicine or put your medicines in an air-tight container with sections. Label the section with the times you take each drug, and fill the sections with a day's supply.
- drink a full glass of water when you take tablets or capsules. Chew chewable tablets well. Wash them down with a glass of water.
- shake liquid medicine well before you use it.
- ask for regular caps if you have a hard time with the childproof ones.
- ask for larger print on the label if you need it, or ask your pharmacist for printed directions.
- take antacids or laxatives either two hours before or two hours after you take other drugs.
- refill prescriptions several days before they run out.
- follow the dos and don'ts of safe drug disposal.
- take a drug prescribed for someone else.
- stop taking a medicine without checking with your health care provider—even if you feel better.
- drink alcohol while you are taking medicine unless your health care provider says it is all right to do so. Many drugs react with alcohol.
- take medicine prescribed for someone else, and don't give yours to anyone else.
- change your medicine from its original bottle to another one.
- keep drugs that are old or that have expired (learn the do's and don'ts of safe drug disposal).
Find detailed information on thousands of prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements in our drug encyclopedia and Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
If you have questions about your medications, talk to your doctor or ask one of our online pharmacists.
Reprinted with Permission. Reviewed by: Kate Christensen, MD and Helene Martel, MA, January 2010
©2011 Kaiser Permanente
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