Use Your Medicines Wisely
You don't have to look past your medicine chest to find prescription and over-the-counter
(OTC) remedies that can make you feel better and improve your health. They can even
save your life.
We use more medicines, supplements, and herbal therapies today than ever. A survey
found 4 out of 5 adults in the U.S. take at least 1 medicine each week. More than
1 in 3 adults takes 5 or more medicines.
That’s no surprise when you think of what medicines can do. They help treat chronic
diseases, strengthen bones, and lift depression. They also ease pain, cure infections,
and reduce fever.
But medicine can have a downside. Most of them are safe when you take them the right
way. But some medicines can cause dizziness, loss of consciousness, bleeding, irregular
heartbeats, and other side effects in some cases.
More than 700,000 people go to emergency rooms each year because of medicine. Accidental
overdoses and allergic reactions are the top problems. Older adults are more likely
to have trouble than younger people.
The following medicines are the cause for about half of the emergency visits in people
older than age 65:
Know side effects
It’s important to know the possible side effects of the medicines you're taking. It's
also important to know if any of your medicines require special monitoring. And make
sure you get the monitoring you need.
Prescription medicines aren’t the only cause for concern. The FDA requires specific
warning labels on OTC pain relievers that contain acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory
drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen. NSAIDs may increase the risk for stomach
bleeding in some people. Acetaminophen is one of the most frequently used drugs in
the U.S. The warnings note that it is linked to liver damage in people who:
Consider some other factors if you take prescription or OTC products. Although one
medicine alone can cause side effects, 2 or more may interact with each other and
cause harmful reactions. Even food and beverages can change the way your body handles
medicines. For example, alcohol can strengthen the effects of some medicines. Food
can slow or speed the effects of some medicines. Still, there's no need to give up
Safe in the short term
Most people who take prescription and over-the-counter medicines for a short period
of time can use them safely. But they should also be aware that just because their
healthcare provider prescribes medicine, or they can walk in and buy something off
the shelf, doesn't mean that there aren’t any risks.
You can take steps to make medicines as safe as possible:
Know the brand and generic names and proper doses of all your medicines.
Learn the side effects of the medicines and supplements you take.
If possible, have one healthcare provider manage all your medicines. Tell your healthcare
provider about all the OTC products you take, too.
Ask your healthcare provider what side effects your medicines can cause and what you should
you do if you experience side effects.
Keep a current list of medicines, vitamins, supplements, and OTC medicines you take.
Share it with all your healthcare providers or with emergency workers.
Use one pharmacy so your pharmacist can track your medicines and spot possible interactions.
Talk with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before you stop or add medicines.
Managing your medicines wisely means taking the right dose at the right time and in
the right way. It's worth the effort. It can help you gain better control of your
health. And improve the quality of your life.