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Prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines can help cure diseases and make you feel better. But it is important to use medicines carefully.
All medicines carry some risk. Your body can have a mild reaction to a medicine, like a minor rash, or a serious allergic reaction. Often, these reactions are unexpected. It is important that you are aware of the risks of each medicine and weigh them against the benefits before you decide to take it.
Some of the risks of using medicine include:
- adverse reactions when the medicine is combined with certain foods, beverages, vitamins, and herbal or other medicines – the more of these you combine, the greater the chance of a reaction
- the medicine not working as prescribed
- the medicine causing more health problems
- the medication has the potential to lead to addiction
Only you can decide what level of risk is acceptable for you or your family. There are several steps you can take to help you reach the right decision.
- Be informed – Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional about all aspects of your medication.
- Tell them about any health conditions you have, like allergies and sensitivities, and what medications, including Natural Health Products, you are currently taking.
- Discuss any questions or concerns you might have. Be sure to mention if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning to have a baby. Mention any difficulties you might have swallowing medicines or remembering to take them.
- Ask your doctor why you are being prescribed the medication, how your medicine should work, whether you need regular check-ups or tests, and if there are any side effects or interactions with food, beverages (like grapefruit juice), vitamins or herbal supplements.
- Ask about ways to decrease the chance of side effects.
- Ask when you should expect to start feeling better, and if and when you should report back to your doctor.
- Ask your pharmacist for written information about the medicine you are taking.
- Make sure to read the drug label to be sure that you are using the medicine safely.
- Be aware that products with different names may contain the same ingredients, like acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol® and Tylenol® Sinus).
- Consider the potential for addiction. Ask your doctor if the medication has addictive properties. Talk to your sponsor if in recovery from alcoholism or addiction.
Be consistent – It is helpful to use the same pharmacy for all your prescriptions. The pharmacist can help you to identify any possible harmful interactions with other medicines that you are taking.
Keep a record – Keep an up-to-date list of all medicines you are taking. Include vitamins, herbal medicines, and prescription and non-prescription drugs, even if you only use them occasionally. Share this list with your doctor and pharmacist. Make sure that you know the brand names and the ingredients of the medicine you are taking. You should also know what each medicine looks like and how it should be stored.
Pay attention to and record how you feel after taking the medicine. Discuss any changes with your doctor or pharmacist and report any side effects.
Take control – Always use the medicine as directed by your doctor or pharmacist. Know when to take it, how often, and for how long. Know when and under what conditions you should stop using a medicine, and what to do if you miss a dose.
Keep medicines safe – Always keep medicines in their original containers, and never combine different medicines in the same bottle. Make sure you are taking the right medicine. Always read the label and follow the directions closely.
Dispose of medicines properly – At least once a year, go through your medicine cabinet and remove all prescription and non-prescription drugs that are old or that you no longer take. Take them all back to your pharmacy or to your municipal waste disposal depot.
- More information at Health Canada