Questions about your medications? Ask!

Visiting your health care professional soon? Just received or expect to receive a new medication? Know the questions you should ask.

Did you know that most people in the United States take at least one prescription medication and close to 40 percent of people in the U.S. have prescriptions for four or more drugs? Add to that the number of over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies, vitamins and supplements – many unfavorable effects could occur.

When used safely, medications contribute to better health and to a longer and greater quality of life.

However, a vast number of Americans take prescription medications without being fully informed about the associated risks and adverse effects.

Misuse of medications can not only interfere with desired treatment, but cause harmful reactions. These include depression, sleepiness, fainting, mental confusion and psychiatric disturbances, loss of appetite, difficulties with vision and even death.

Michigan State University Extension has identified common types of medication misuse as:

• Taking the incorrect dose

• Taking a dose at the wrong time

• Forgetting to take a dose

• Stopping medicine too soon

Many of these problems can be alleviated by asking your doctor or pharmacist questions. Taking the time to ask questions when receiving or refilling prescriptions can avoid later complications. Ask for the answers in a format (written, oral, etc.) and a language that you can understand.

Questions to ask the health care provider:

  • What is the name of the medication? Is it known by another other name?
  • What’s the medication for?
  • What are the benefits of the medication? Are there any risks or side effects and what are they?
  • When should I expect the medicine to start working? How will I know if it is working?
  • How long will I have to take this medication?
  • Will this medication work safely with the other medications, supplements, vitamins and over-the-counter medicines I take?
  • Do I need any tests while taking this medication or should I make a follow-up appointment?

Questions to ask the pharmacist:

  • How much of the medication should I take? When should I take the medication (example: Only during waking hours or in the middle of the night)?
  • Should it be taken before, during or after meals? With water or food?
  • Should I avoid some foods, drinks or activities while taking this prescription?
  • Will this medication work safely with the other medications, supplements, vitamins and over-the-counter medicines I take?
  • Can I take it at the same time I take other medications? Which medications can I combine with or which should I avoid?
  • If I miss a dose what should I do?
  • Are there any risks or side effects with this medication?

Don’t forget to ask your health care provider or pharmacist for any supplemental written materials they might have on your condition or on the medication that you are prescribed. Be sure to read the materials. If you still have questions, return to your provider or pharmacist and ask questions until you have received an answer that satisfies you.

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