24 October 2003

Keep your medications viable

Go to the medicine cabinet of a typical South African home, and you'll probably find it jammed full of various vials and bottles, creams and gels, all left over from years of ailments.

Go to the medicine cabinet of a typical South African home, and you'll probably find it jammed full of various vials and bottles, creams and gels, all left over from years of ailments.

Now, think to yourself: How many of those medicines were taken correctly?

Patients can become ill from receiving the wrong medicine, taking an incorrect dose, taking a medicine at the wrong time, taking it with or without food, or combining prescription and non-prescription drugs.

Ask your pharmacist
The American National Council on Patient Information and Education recommends that you actively seek out information about the drugs you are taking, and communicate often with both your pharmacist and doctors about the medications.

One of the most important things you can do is establish a relationship with a specific pharmacist, especially if you are seeing more than one doctor.

The pharmacist will be able to keep an eye on all the medications you are taking, while a doctor might only know just about the medications he or she prescribed. That person [the pharmacist] will be able to assess whether a new drug will interact well with other medications you are taking, MacLean says.

This is particularly important if you're not good at communicating with your doctor, or uncomfortable about talking about other physicians you are seeing, adds Lee Rucker, the council's senior vice president of policy and public affairs.

People who see multiple physicians, particularly senior citizens, are reluctant to let one physician know they are being treated by other physicians, Rucker notes.

Keep a list of medications
That said, it is recommended that people keep an updated list of their medications and provide that list to all doctors and pharmacists.

This is something the consumer can whip out at the physician's office or share with their pharmacist, Rucker says.

That list should include both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. The over-the-counter medications are highly effective, potent medications, so it's very important to take that into consideration, MacLean says.

She gives an example in which a family physician recommends that a person take over-the-counter ibuprofen for pain, but an orthopaedic surgeon already has that person taking a prescription anti-inflammatory. The two drugs compete, so neither will work as well as it ought to, and you're more at risk for side effects, MacLean says.

Other useful tips
When you get a new prescription, you should make sure you know the name of the drug and understand how you are to take it and whether there are any possible side effects.

How to take a drug can be more complicated than you'd initially think. Does four times a day mean every six hours, or four times during your waking hours? MacLean says. Do you take it with a full glass of water, or with some food or milk?

Once you're on a medication, it's also important to schedule follow-up visits to see whether the drug is having the desired effect. These could include tests for kidney or liver function, blood cell count or blood pressure. The patient usually has to take it upon themselves to schedule these lab tests and make sure the results are communicated to the physician for review, Rucker says.

And remember that medicine cabinet chock full of old drugs? Experts recommend that you go through yours and toss out any old medication that has expired.

Your health in your hands
It's not a matter of money, but of your health. Some drugs, like the antibiotic tetracycline, can become harmful once they've gotten old. Take some old tetracycline, and you have the potential of getting sick, with nausea and vomiting, MacLean says. It will degrade to a compound that's harmful.

The best thing you can do to see your way through a thicket of medications is make an appointment to see your pharmacist and let him or her help you figure out what's what.

We really, really urge patients to bring in a brown bag with medications from their medicine cabinet and go through them with a pharmacist, MacLean says. They can make sure your drug regimen is proper, that you are taking your medications correctly and that you've gotten rid of old prescriptions. - (HealthDayNews)

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