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9 Common Questions to Ask Your Pharmacist – By: Kristina Freyou, PharMD

Medications can get complicated, especially if your medical care involves more than one doctor and pharmacy. Your pharmacist is an important part of your healthcare team. They are well trained in their profession, and are an excellent source of information about medication, both prescription and over-the-counter. If you have questions about your medicine after you leave the doctor’s office, the pharmacist can answer many of them. However, most people don’t know what questions to ask to obtain their assistance.

Here are some suggestions for questions you may want to ask your pharmacist the next time you fill your prescription:

What is the name of my medication?

It is important to know the names and intended use of all your medications. If you see more than one physician, you should always tell your doctors about other medications you are taking, including non-prescription drugs, herbal remedies, teas, dietary supplements, vitamins, and minerals. This will ensure that the medication you take, both prescription and nonprescription, is appropriate for your condition.

Each medication has two names: the generic name and the brand name. The brand name is the name under which a specific manufacturer markets a product, like Tylenol. The generic name is the standard name of the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). The label on your medication will state the brand name, generic name, or both. If more than one company makes a medication, its generic name will be the same. The brand name will be different for each company.

If you take medications, you play a role in your healthcare when it comes to medication safety. A helpful tool is to keep an up-to-date list of all the medications you take, their dosages, and the reason you are taking them and carry it with you. Sharing your updated list every time you see your doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider helps them give you the best care possible. It could even prevent a dangerous medication situation.

What is the medication supposed to do?

Some medications, such as antibiotics, are used to cure an illness. Others, such as pain medications, are used to control the symptoms. It is good to know what to expect from your medication, so that you have a realistic idea of what it can do for you.

How should I use the medication?

Taking your medication correctly is very important so that it can give you correct therapeutic effect. Some medicines are known to interact with alcohol or food, resulting in an increased or decreased effect of the drug. In some instances, the interaction may be harmful. Also, some medications must be used at the same times every day to be effective.

What if I forget to take my medication or take a dose incorrectly?

Try to follow the directions as closely as possible. If you think you might have trouble with this, ask your pharmacist about special boxes and other devices to help you remember.

If you realize that you may have taken a dose incorrectly, notify your physician immediately. The decision to make up a missed dose depends on the drug. Ask your pharmacist his or her advice when you have the prescription dispensed. You should know the answer to this question before it happens.

How long will I need to use the medication?

Some medications are used for the short term, others for a lifetime. Knowing how long you will need to stay on a medication can help you prepare yourself for a lifestyle change, if necessary.

Serious problems may result from not taking all your medication or by continuing medications too long. It is very important that some medications, such as antibiotics, be taken for the prescribed length of time. Patients must not stop taking medicines before the time-period prescribed because they feel better.

In addition, some medicines may need to be stopped by lowering the dose a little at a time. This is called tapering the dose. It is done to avoid side effects that can occur if you stop taking the drug all at once.

What are the side effects of this medication and what should I do if they happen?

All medicines can cause side effects, but they are not necessarily serious. That’s why it’s important to ask your pharmacist what to expect from your prescription. Even if there is a long list of potential side effects on the pharmacy prescription information, it’s better to ask your pharmacist about the most frequently reported adverse effects of a medication. Before you decide to stop taking a medication because of side effects, ask your pharmacist if there are any ways to combat them.

Can I take non-prescription drugs, herbal medicines, or other drugs with this medicine?

Many non-prescription drugs can interact with prescription medication. At times, the interactions can produce unwanted and even serious side effects. Although often thought of as “natural,” several herbal products contain ingredients that can also cause significant interactions with prescription medication.

Never begin taking a new medication without asking your pharmacist if it will interact with your other medicines. It is important to tell your doctor about other drugs or herbals you are taking before he or she plans a new treatment for you.

How should I store my medications?

Medication may lose their effectiveness if you don’t store them correctly. The medicine cabinet in the bathroom is not a good place to keep medications because of the moisture and heat. Don’t store medicines on the bottom shelf of any cabinet that has under-the-cabinet lighting. The light is a source of heat, which can damage medicines. Select a cool, dry area for storage of your medicines and always make sure they are stored safely away from young children. Some medicines will have special storage requirements, such as refrigeration. Always check all the labels on the medicine bottle or package for these instructions.

When should I follow up with my doctor or pharmacist?

If you are experiencing side effects that you are unsure about, consulting your pharmacist could be extremely beneficial. Side effects may not always be the concern, if the medication affects your daily activities you may want to discuss alternative options. In addition, some medications may not make a noticeable difference until you’ve had three to four months of consistent treatment, ask for a timeline to better understand when to follow up with your health care provider.

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