Tips on Taking Medications

Pills, medications, medicine, dosage

I know many folks do not like taking medicines. For example, they do not like side effects or often have difficulty swallowing some pills. Yet, medicines are wonderful inventions which can successfully treat many diseases; diseases which in the past doctors could do little about. Medications are arguably healthcare’s best tools when used properly! They have saved countless lives. This includes curing many infections (antibiotics) and allowing us to live fulfilled lives despite many chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes). Here are some useful tips on taking and getting the most out of your medicines.

  • Religiously take the medicines at the times and doses prescribed by your healthcare provider. Different medications have different rates of entering your system, different times they remain in your system, and different ways they are eliminated by your body (e.g. some via the kidneys and into the urine, some degraded by the liver). These factors are all considered when determining what medicine, what dosage you should take and how often (some once a day, others multiple times a day). The goal is to maintain an effective level of each medicine in your system over time, without running into side effects which are often dose dependent.

  • If you experience what you think are side effects, consult your healthcare provider BEFORE changing or discontinuing any medication. Most medicines have potential real side effects. However, these can often be minimized by either changing the dose of the medication, changing the frequency at which you take the medication, or sometimes switching to a different but similar medication. Most common side effects are listed in the information which comes with your prescription for you to check, and everyone’s response is often different. Some side effects go away over time as your body adapts to a given medication. Your healthcare provider needs to know exactly what you are taking and how you are actually taking your medication. Together you can monitor its effectiveness (e.g. measuring your blood pressure if you are on a blood pressure lowering medication).

  • Do not chew your tablets, especially if it is a capsule: Some medications are designed to release slowly in your system at different times. If you chew them, you may get a whopping dose right at the start which may cause problems (e.g. fainting). If you have difficulty swallowing pills, you may ask for smaller pills in the prescription, or ask for a liquid formulation (easier to swallow). Also, for little kids, ask your healthcare provider if it’s okay to crush the pills and put them into juice or food like apple sauce.

  • If you take multiple medicines, use a pill organizer to help you keep track of what medicines you have taken and when. I personally am on several different medications. Some I need to take once a day, one twice a day, and 2 three times a day. We all get busy and distracted at times and it is easy to forget whether you have taken a particular medicine if you are just taking the pills directly out of the bottle and swallowing them. You do not want to double up on some medications by mistake (e.g. blood pressure lowering medications or some blood thinners) since you may run into problems if you do so. I use a week-long pill organizer which has slots for morning, afternoon, and evening, and religiously fill this up every Sunday morning for the entire week (see attached photograph for one example). This way, if I cannot remember if I actually took something, I can look at the organizer and it will tell me (if they are not there, then I took them).  You can also have someone else organize your pills for you in this way. Various pill organizers are available at your local pharmacy. Finally, there are also some pharmacies which will organize your pills for you.
Pill Organizer

It is also a good idea to take note of the shapes sizes and colors of your different pills. This helps prevent mistakes (e.g. two of the same pills put in the same box, or one pill missing). If a new prescription for a medication you have been taking looks different, you may want to double check with the pharmacist to ensure that a mistake has not been made or whether a dose has changed.

  • Always carry with you a written list of all the medications you take (names, doses, and how often taken each day). This is important to show any healthcare provider since medications are a common source of symptoms, and if you need to be treated for something urgently, folks need to know what you have been taking. For example, if you are in an accident and get taken unconscious to an emergency room, this is most helpful for the healthcare providers to know how to diagnose and treat you. One option is to keep a table of your medications like the one below:
MedicationDose per pillTime taken
Atorvastatin80 mg tabletOnce in evening
Eliquis5 mg tabletOnce in morning and in evening
Metoprolol12.5 mg tabletOne half tablet morning, late afternoon, evening
(a partial list of my medications)

Alternatively, if you are patient in a health system which has an electronic patient portal, you can usually find a listing of all of your prescribed medications in this system and print out this list to carry with you.  I always keep my list with me.

  • If you are getting low on one of your medications, ask for a refill days ahead of when you would run out. It may take some days for the pharmacy to stock a particular medicine, or for a new prescription to be obtained from your healthcare provider.

  • Finally, if children are around, keep your medications in a safe place that they cannot get to. Medicine pills often look like candy to young kids who may take an overdose and get into big trouble.

These are just a few general tips. Certain specific medications may need special care (e.g. they need to be kept out of sunlight, need to be refrigerated, not taken with certain foods, etc.) and it is very important to follow these specific instructions to avoid problems.  

Keywords: medicine, pills, medication, dose

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