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Medication Questions? Ask the Pharmacist
The pharmacy is more than a place to pick up your medicine. You can get answers to questions about your medicines too. Here are some tips.
Choosing Your Pharmacy
Choose your pharmacy with the same care that you choose a doctor. It is best to use only one pharmacy. That way, your medicine records are at one location.
On your first pharmacy visit, answer questions about current and past health. Your pharmacist needs to know about:
- Medicines and supplements that you take
- Allergies to medicines
- Conditions that may have an effect on your medicines
- Adverse effects from medicines in the past
Questions to Ask
Before taking any new medicine, make sure you can answer these questions:
What is the name of the medicine and what is it supposed to do?
Know the names of all your medicines—both prescription and nonprescription. Tell each doctor what medicines you take and why you are taking it. Also, know what each medicine looks like.
When and how do I take it?
Make sure you know:
- How often to take your medicine
- If the medicine is best taken with food or on an empty stomach
- If you should take medicine at the same time each day
For how long should I take it?
Your prescription order shows the length of time you should take the medicine. It will also show if you can get refills. Do not skip doses or stop medicine to save money or because you "feel better." Doing so can cause health problems that need more treatment.
Does this medicine contain anything that can cause an allergic reaction?
Always use the same pharmacy. It will help the pharmacist look out for possible problems.
Should I avoid alcohol, any other medicines, food and/or activities?
Certain foods or alcohol may not mix with your medicines. Some medicines can cause sleepiness and may affect activities such as driving.
Should I expect any side effects?
All medicines can cause side effects. This does not mean the side effects will be serious. Your pharmacist will tell you about the most common side effects. If you have any unexplained effects, call your doctor or pharmacist.
What if I forget to take my medicines?
If you forget your medicine, be sure you know what to do. Ask when you get the prescription. The decision to take a missed dose depends on the drug. If you miss a dose, do not panic. Do not take a double dose unless your doctor advises you to do so.
Is there a generic version of the medicine?
A generic version is equal to the brand name product. Not all medicines have generic versions. For those that do, a generic version can save you up to half the cost.
How should I store my medicine?
If not stored properly, medicines may lose their effectiveness. Most medicines need a cool, dry storage location. Some need refrigeration. The bathroom medicine cabinet is not the best storage place. Heat and humidity can cause problems with your medicine.
Does this medicine replace anything else I was taking?
Make sure you know if this medicine is replacing another medicine.
Most liquid medicines come with a measuring device. Make sure you have one before you leave the pharmacy. If you do not have one, ask the pharmacist how to measure the dose you need. Do not use tableware, such as a tablespoon.
Some More Helpful Tips
- Keep a list of all your medicines—prescription and nonprescription.
- Keep all medicines in their original containers. Know what each is for. Also know the brand and generic names.
- Never take someone else's medicine.
- Take medicines exactly as prescribed. Do not chew, crush, or break capsules or tablets—unless the doctor advises you to do so.
- DO NOT flush old medicines down the toilet—unless you are advised to do so. Instead, take these steps:
- Take them out of the original container.
- Mix them with other substances such as cat litter.
- Once mixed, place them in a sealed bag and throw them in the trash.
- Another option is to take them to a community drug take-back program—or talk to your pharmacist.
- Be mindful of safety. Be sure to:
- Turn the lights on when taking medicines.
- Keep medicines separate from pet medicines and household chemicals.
- Always read the label when taking medicine. Make sure you have the right drug.
- Do not keep tubes of ointments or creams next to your tube of toothpaste.
- If you forget your medicine when traveling, do not panic. Most pharmacies will call your home pharmacy. They can get you enough pills until you return home. Are you going overseas or traveling for a long time? If so, ask your doctor for extra prescriptions before you go.
American Pharmacists Association
National Institute on Aging
Canadian Pharmacists Association
College of Pharmacists of British Columbia
How to dispose of unused medicines. Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/where-and-how-dispose-unused-medicines. Accessed October 18, 2021.
Medicines: using them safely. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: https://www.kidshealth.org/en/parents/medication-safety.html. Accessed October 18, 2021.
Stop, learn, go: tips for talking with your pharmacist to learn how to use medicines safely. Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/drugs/resources-you-drugs/stop-learn-go-tips-talking-your-pharmacist-learn-how-use-medicines-safely. Accessed October 18, 2021.