When it Comes to Taking Medication, Make Sure You Do it Right

Medicines are designed to enhance our well-being and extend our lifespans. However, it’s important to remember that taking medications incorrectly or combining certain drugs and supplements can be risky. This is especially true for older adults who may have multiple medical conditions and therefore take multiple medications, putting them at an increased risk of experiencing negative side effects. In this article, we’ll explore how to safely take and manage your medications.

Understanding Medications

Medications, also known as drugs, are used to prevent or treat various diseases and health conditions. They can be obtained either through a prescription or over the counter (OTC). Prescription drugs require a doctor’s order and can include cholesterol-lowering pills or asthma inhalers, for instance. On the other hand, OTC medications can be purchased without a prescription, such as aspirin or lubricating eye drops.

It’s important to note that dietary supplements are not classified as drugs as they are not intended to prevent or treat diseases. Instead, these products aim to maintain or improve overall health and help meet daily requirements for essential vitamins and minerals. For example, calcium and vitamin D can contribute to strong bones. If you’re interested in learning more about taking supplements safely, you can check out the NIA article on Dietary Supplements for Older Adults.

It’s crucial to be aware that combining certain prescription drugs, OTC medications, dietary supplements, or other remedies can be dangerous. For example, if you’re taking warfarin for heart problems, it’s important to avoid taking aspirin. To safeguard your health and avoid potentially serious complications, it’s recommended to consult your doctor and discuss all the medications you’re taking, including those prescribed by other doctors, as well as any OTC drugs, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies. Openly communicate about all the medications, even if you only use them occasionally.

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Starting a New Medication

Before starting any new prescription, OTC medicine, or supplement, it’s advisable to have a conversation with your healthcare provider. Make sure to inform them about all the medications and supplements you’re currently taking. Additionally, discuss any allergies or adverse reactions you’ve experienced in the past with other medications, such as rashes, breathing difficulties, indigestion, dizziness, or mood changes. Keep your doctor and pharmacist informed about your allergies to ensure you’re not prescribed a medication that contains substances which could trigger an allergic reaction.

Also, find out from your healthcare provider whether you need to make any changes or discontinue any of your current medications or supplements while taking the new medication. Combining a new drug with existing medications or supplements can lead to unpleasant and potentially serious complications. For instance, mixing a sedative (used for sleep) with an antihistamine (used for allergies) can slow down your reactions and make driving or operating machinery hazardous.

When starting a new medication, it’s essential to take note of the drug’s name, dosage, and its purpose for being prescribed to you. Make sure you also remember any special instructions regarding how to take the medicine. In many cases, this information is provided on the medication bottle or prescription label.

For More Information on Safe Medication Use

This article has been provided by the NIH National Institute on Aging (NIA), a reliable source for health information. NIA scientists and experts have carefully reviewed this content to ensure its accuracy and currency.

Content reviewed: September 22, 2022

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