We take medicines to help us be as healthy as we can be. We take them to make ourselves feel better—for example, when we have headaches or muscle aches. We may also take medicines to manage long-term health conditions, such as seizures, diabetes or high blood pressure. Medicines are meant to help us, but it can be harmful to take too much, or too little, of a medicine. It can also be harmful to take the wrong medicines together.
Many people take more than one medicine each day. They may take more than one medicine for the same health condition. Some people take more than one medicine because they have more than one health condition to treat. If you take more than one type of medicine at a time, it is important to make sure they will work well together. When you take two medicines together, one of them may stop working. Sometimes, taking two medicines together will make you very sick.
Medicine safety means taking medicines in a safe way. There are two steps to medicine safety. Step 1 is to take only the medicines that you ought to take, and to take them in the right way. Step 2 is to make certain that, if you take two or more medicines, it is safe to take them together.
Having the Right Information
There are two types of medicine: prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines. Only a doctor can order prescription medicines for you. You, or someone who supports you, can buy over-the-counter medicines without a doctor’s order. Medicines of either kind always come with directions on the bottle or in the package. These directions will tell you how much of a medicine to take and when to take it. It is very important to follow the directions. If you don’t understand them you should ask a doctor, nurse, pharmacist or your support staff to explain them to you.
If you take two or more medicines, it is important to know that you can take them at the same time safely. Only a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist can tell you this. You, your family or your supports should make sure to ask for this information whenever you take more than one medicine.
We take medicines because we want them to help us in some way, but medicines can also cause changes in our bodies that we did not want. These unexpected and unwanted changes that a medicine can cause are called “side effects.” Every medicine comes with a list of common side effects to watch for. You should remember, however, that this list of side effects is just a guide. You may not feel the side effects that are listed on the bottle or in the package; instead, you may feel others that are not listed.
Side effects can be physical, such as an upset stomach; they can be behavioral, such as feeling sleepy; or they can be emotional, such as being angry or sad. If you or somebody you know is experiencing side effects from medicine, you should tell someone right away!
What You Can Do
You can be responsible for taking medication safely. One important thing you can do is ask questions. For example, you can ask your doctor, a nurse, or a pharmacist how to take your medicines safely. Some questions you might want to ask are:
- What is the medicine supposed to do? It is a good idea to know what a medicine is meant to do, so you will know whether it is working.
- How long will it be before I know that the medicine is working? Find out whether you will feel the effects of the medicine right away, or not for hours or weeks.
- What should I do if I miss a dose? Your doctor can tell you what to do if you forget to take your medicine.
- Should the medicine be taken with food or drink? You should find out if you should take the medicine with food or drink or if there are certain foods or drinks that you should stay away from while taking the medicine.
- Is it okay to take this medicine with other medicines? Make sure to tell your doctor what other medicines you are taking so you can find out if it is safe to take them together.
- What are the common side effects? You should know what side effects to expect so that you can be prepared.
- If I see side effects what should I do? Your doctor can tell you what to do if you feel side effects from medicine.
- How should this medicine be taken? Different medicines are taken in different ways. You should find out if the medicine should be swallowed or taken some other way.
- How should this medicine be stored? Certain medicines need to be stored in the refrigerator, away from light, or somewhere dry; make sure to find out where you should keep your medicine.
By asking questions and learning about the medicines that you are taking, you and your support staff can make sure that you take your medicine safely. Whenever you take a medicine, you should check to be sure that:
- The medicine you are taking belongs to you
- It is a medicine that you are meant to be taking
- You are taking the right amount
- You are taking it at the right time of day
- You are taking it in the correct way.
By paying attention and learning about the medicines that you are taking you can make sure to stay safe and healthy!