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Get the best benefit from your medications

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Patients who learn as much as they can about their condition find it easier to stick to their treatment plan. Here are some tips to help you get involved in your medical care.

Learn the answers to these questions. What’s the name of the drug and what is it supposed to do? How and when do I take it? For how long? What foods, beverages and other medicines or activities should I avoid? What are the side effects, and what should I do if they occur? Can you give me some written information about the drug? How will I know if the medicine is working? Can I drive while taking this medication? How should I store this medication?

Talk to your doctor. As your trusted medical adviser, he or she is available to discuss any of your health concerns. The more comfortable you feel with your doctor and the more solid your relationship, the more likely you’ll be to follow his or her orders.

Teach yourself not to forget. Patients develop clever methods for remembering to take their medications. These range from wearing beeping watches to sticking Post-It notes on the refrigerator door. One of the simplest memory joggers is to coordinate your pill taking with routine tasks. When you take your pills each day just before you brush your teeth, it becomes a habit—a very healthy habit.

“Take two tablets on an empty stomach.” … “Take after meals.” … “Swallow with a full glass of water.” … “If you miss a dose, don’t double up.” … “Swallow pills whole.”

There are so many things to remember when taking prescribed medications, it’s not surprising that many people—up to one half of the population, in fact—don’t take their medicines properly. The fact is, not taking prescription medicine properly or not taking it at all can be dangerous. So why do people play dice with their prescription drugs? Here are a few theories:

Many people believe they should take medicines only when they feel sick. Some diseases, like hypertension, don’t make people feel sick at all. Hypertension is called the “silent killer” because by the time symptoms start to show up, the disease is generally much harder to control. Dangerously high cholesterol levels are another case in point: Patients don’t feel any better when they take their pills and don’t feel any worse when they don’t.

Some people experience side effects that feel worse than the original condition. Some drugs do cause side effects, but when the dosage is adjusted, these generally disappear. If that doesn’t work, your doctor will probably prescribe a different drug. That’s why it’s important to report bothersome symptoms.

Sometimes patients don’t have enough information about their medications. Doctors and pharmacists may offer standard printed instructions and information to patients about medications, but many patients are still left with questions about why a drug is needed, how to take it and how to minimize side effects. That’s why it’s important to leave your doctor’s office with a clear understanding of why you’re taking a drug and the proper way to take it.

© 2014 Dowden Health Media