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Things to Know When Starting a New Medication

Updated on February 28, 2014

Pill bottle - with labelling

Reading pharmacy labels carefully is essential when your are prescribed a medication
Reading pharmacy labels carefully is essential when your are prescribed a medication | Source

Understanding Facts About Your Medication

When a doctor prescribes a new medication for you, there are often several questions you may have. Often you think of these questions long after the appointment is over!

This guide contains a list of basic things you should check with your doctor or pharmacist whenever you are prescribed a new medication. This will help you to gain a better understanding of your medications. Also use this guide to check that you know this information about all the medication you are currently taking.

1. Know the Name of the Medication – Brand and Generic

Generally, doctors prescribe medications by their brand name. This is the name that the pharmaceutical company gives to the product, not the name of the actual drug. For example, Zoloft is the brand name of a widely used antidepressant. The actual name of the medication, or the generic name, is sertraline. People may choose to purchase a generic brand of their medication, as it is often a lot cheaper than the branded version. This is why it is important that you know the generic and brand name of your medication, as there is potential for confusion, which may lead to people accidentally “doubling dosing” on their medications.

2. Know What the Medication is Prescribed For

Many medications have multiple uses. The only person who knows what it is being used for in your circumstances is you and your doctor. If you are unsure why your doctor has prescribed a medication, or you do not completely understand it is essential that you check this with your doctor. Sometimes doctors - particularly specialists - may use a medication outside the uses that the FDA has approved it for, so you are unlikely to find much information relevant to you and your condition readily available on the internet. In these situations, the best source of information regarding the medication and your condition is your pharmacist or doctor.

3. Know the Dose and How and When to Take It

It is essential to know how much of your medication you need to take and how often you need to take it. Some medications are taken with food, some are better on an empty stomach and some are fine to take with or without food. If you are prescribed medication that needs to be inhaled, ask your pharmacist to show you how to use it correctly, as this is so important to ensure you are getting the right dose. If your doctor has prescribed a patch for you to wear, ensure you understand which part of the body it needs to be put on, and when it needs to be changed as there is wide variation between different types of patches. These are just some of the intricacies of taking medication. If your are ever unsure, never feel embarrassed to ask your pharmacist or doctor to clarify.

4. Know When the Medication Should Start Working

Some medications will have a rapid effect, within a few hours, whereas some medications may take several weeks to reach their full effect. This depends on the type of medication, and the condition it is being used for. It is important that you have some idea what to expect, as discontinuing medication because you think it isn't working can have harmful effects in some situations.

5. Know How Long You Need to Take the Medication For

There are a range of treatment courses for different medications. Some treatments are simply a once off dose. Some medications are taken for a specific period of time, such as antibiotics, More commonly, medications need to be taken continually on a regular basis as prescribed by the doctor for them to work effectively, This can include medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, pain, high cholesterol, asthma, glaucoma, depression and anxiety to name a few conditions.

6. Know What the Common Side Effects Are

Most people are concerned about what side effects they might experience from their medications. Knowing what side effects to look out for will help you to be prepared for them, and your pharmacist will be able to advise you on how to manage them. Some side effects may be mild and occur mainly during the first few weeks of treatment, whereas some rare side effects may not appear for several years after commencing a medication.

7. Know About Drug Interactions

If you always visit the same doctor, they will most likely know all the medications you are currently taking and whether there will be any interactions with a medication they wish to prescribe. If you visit the same pharmacy regularly, similarly they will be able to see what medications you are taking and they too will check for any interactions between your new medication and your current medications. Your pharmacist will be able to advise you on how to manage interactions, and if there are any major problems they will contact your doctor to alert them to the problem.

Always let your doctor or pharmacist know what medications you take when you get a new medication, no matter how unimportant you think it might be due to the potential for drug interactions. Many drug interactions are minor, however some drug interactions can be deadly.

8. Know Whether You Will Need to Have Any Specific Drug Monitoring

For some medications, there may be a need to have regular blood tests whilst you are on that medication. For example, patients taking a medication called warfarin; which is used as a blood thinner; regularly need blood tests to determine what dose of warfarin they need to take. For other medications, for example metformin; a medication used to lower blood sugar in type 2 diabetes; a doctor may want a patient to have a blood test every few months to see how well the medication is working at controlling blood sugar levels. Depending on the medication, the need for and type of monitoring required will differ.

9. Know What Do If You Experience Any Problems

If you are unsure about anything to do with your medications, even if you are uncertain whether a problem may be medication related; always seek advice from your pharmacist or doctor. Pharmacists are the medication experts, and your doctor knows your medical history so seek advice from the experts.

By knowing this information about your medications, you will have a much better understanding of your medications and be a much more informed consumer, giving you a much more active role in your own healthcare.


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    • Horse Feathers profile image

      Horse Feathers 6 years ago from Indiana USA

      It's ridicules the FDA allows the side effect to be worse than the affliction!