Get to know your medicines

It is important to know about your medicines; the more you know and understand, the more chance you have of taking your medications properly and safely.

When you are prescribed a new medicine, it is important to ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist questions to enable you to get a better understanding. Here are examples of the questions you should ask:

What is the name of the medicine?

You may not remember it, so it may be useful to write it down. You may want to write the name in a way that helps you remember. For example paracetamol can be written as pa-ra-see-ta-mol.

What is the medicine used for?

Have an understanding of what the medicine is used for and how it works. Some medicines can have many uses, so knowing why you have been prescribed the medicine is important.

How often do I take the medicine?

Some medicines may work in your body for longer, so they only need to be taken once a day. Other medicines may work for a shorter time, so they may need to be taken more often such as 2 or 3 times a day.

Some medicines may only need to be taken when required for a particular reason such as "when needed for headache". It may not need to be taken regularly, when you do not have a headache.

How long do I need to take this medicine ?

Do I take the medicine with water, and with food? Are there any foods I should avoid while taking this medicine? Some medicines are taken for a short time, such as antibiotics. Other medicines may need to be taken for months to years.

Does the medicine interact with medicines that I am already taking?

Or with any over-the-counter medicines I buy from my pharmacy or supermarket, or any herbal products or supplements that I may be taking?

Will any tests or monitoring be required while I am taking the medicine?

When should I expect the medicine to start working, and how will I know if it is working? Some medicines may start working immediately, while other medicines may take a few days to weeks before you notice a difference.

What are possible side effects I can expect?

What do I do if they occur? Can I do anything to lessen them? It is important to ask yourself what do I do? And is there anything I can do to lessen these effects?

Some medicines may cause unwanted effects. These may often go away as your body gets used to the medicine.

Sometimes these unwanted effects may be lessened with simple advice for example, some medicines may cause your skin to be more sensitive to the sun. Being sun-smart by wearing a good sun protection cream, and avoiding the sun will be helpful.

Credits: Sandra Ponen, reviewed by Dr J Bycroft. Latest update Oct 2014..