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11 Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Your Drugs

How well do you know about the drugs you are taking?

Whether synthetic or natural (herbal), drugs are intended to act on the body. There always is a chance that they will produce effects that we do not want. Moreover, if two or more drugs are taken at the same time, there is a chance that one drug will interact with another drug in either a positive or negative way. This does not imply that the drugs are bad, but rather that they should be used carefully in order to reap the greatest benefit while minimizing unwanted side effects. When used properly, most drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration do more good than harm. Make a list of your questions about the medications you are taking and discuss tany concerns with your doctor.

1. How does the drug work?

Knowing how the drug works provides the rationale for its use in the treatment of a particular disease. This also promotes adherence to treatment.

2. Why did my doctor prescribe this drug?

Drugs often have more than one use. Understanding why a drug is prescribed improves your knowledge about the drug and the condition for which it is prescribed. This promotes compliance with treatment. It is a good idea to write down why each drug was prescribed to share this information with other health-care professionals or caregivers.

4. What are the possible side effects of the drug?

Since drugs provide a benefit by modifying processes in the body, it is not surprising that they also have side effects. Successful drug therapy produces the desired beneficial effect without unbearable side effects. Therefore, it is important to know what a drug's side effects are so that they can be recognized, prevented, and acted upon appropriately when they occur.

5. Should you use a generic version of the drug?

Generic drugs work like the brand name drugs, but they are cheaper. Purchasing a generic instead of the brand name drug can often reduce the cost of therapy while providing the same benefit.

6. What should you expect the drug to do?

Some drugs cure the condition for which they are prescribed while other drugs provide only relief from symptoms. Some drugs provide an immediate benefit while other drugs require more time to be effective. To determine whether the drug is working as intended, it is important to know the expected result and how long it will take to see that result.

7. How should the drug be taken?

The optimal dose and timing of ingestion of a drug is determined by scientific studies. Drugs provide their greatest benefit when they are taken as prescribed. Deviating from the prescribed dose often leads to failure of the therapy or to side effects. However, in some circumstances (for example, when severe side effects occur), changes in dose may be appropriate, but they should be discussed with a health-care professional as soon as possible.

8. What should you do if you miss a dose?

Despite the best of efforts, eventually everyone misses one or more doses of a medication. The remedy for this situation depends on the drug. For some drugs, simply taking the missed dose as soon as possible is appropriate. For other drugs, it is more appropriate to wait and double the next scheduled dose. (However, this can be dangerous with some drugs.) Since the recommendations differ for each drug, knowing the correct remedy can prevent therapy from failing and side effects from occurring.

9. What foods and substances interact with the drug?

Interactions with drugs are common and they can cause side effects or reduce the beneficial effect of the drug. Sometimes, the interaction may promote a beneficial effect. Knowing which interacting agents to avoid while taking a drug (for example, food, and herbal drugs) will prevent failure of therapy and side effects. It is a good idea to let your pharmacist and all health-care professionals know the drugs you are taking so potential drug interactions can be avoided. Also, ask about alternative treatments and how effective they are.


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10. How should I dispose of any unused drugs?

To safe guard the health of children, pets, and the environment; and to reduce drug abuse; drugs should be disposed of responsibly.

The FDA recommends the following for safe disposal of unused or expired medications:

  • Follow specific recommendations for disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information packet provided with the medication.
  • Do not flush drugs down the sink or toilet unless the packet information on the drug specifically instructs to do so.
  • Check to see if your community has a drug take-back program that allows the public to bring unused drugs to a specific location for disposal.
  • If you do not have access to a disposal program in your area to dispose of unused drugs it is recommended you throw the drugs in the garbage after taking the following steps:
    • Remove the drugs from their original container and mix them with coffee grounds or kitty litter (this makes the drugs less appealing to pets, children, and people who intentionally dig through trash seeking drugs).
    • Place the mixture in a sealable container, can, or bag to prevent leakage.

Additional tips.

  • Remove all identifying information on the prescription labels so they are unreadable. This helps protect your identify and personal health information.
  • Do not give prescription medications to friends or family members. A medication that is effective for you, may be dangerous for someone else.
  • Ask your health-care professional or pharmacist if you have any questions about proper disposal of unused or expired medicaitons.
  • Disposal of prescription drug disposal methods can be applied to over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.
  • Inquire about any special instructions for disposing the unused or expired medications you have taken.

11. Who manufacturers the drug?

Drug manufacturers often have education materials, programs, and other resources that may help you understand your health condition and its management. They may also have prescription assistance programs.

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