In a previous article I stressed the importance of knowing what you are taking regarding medications, i.e., knowing why, potential side effects, etc. This is because about double the people who die in automobile accidents in the US die from ADR’s (adverse drug reactions): somewhere close to 100,000 a year in the US alone. As a follow-up I interviewed an experienced pharmacist. Here are 10 solid recommendations based on my own experience and research, and that interview.
1. Know at least the top 5 most common and(or) most dangerous side effects for every medication you take and be vigilant as to the first signs of each. For example one of the bipolar drugs popular nowadays has a rare but dangerous skin condition associated with it. If you were taking that drug for bipolar illness and developed even a minor rash it would be wise to report to your doctor immediately.
2. Keep an updated list on a folded 3×5 card marked boldly on the outside “for medical emergencies.” Drug interactions are common and if for instance you are taking certain antidepressants and are given a certain very common IV narcotic for pain or anesthesia if when for example, you were brought unconscious to a hospital after a car wreck, you could die instantly.
3. If you take generic drugs (not identified by the original trade name but only the generic name), as most people do when they’re available, always get them from the same pharmacy. Different generic versions of the same drug have different carrying compounds from which pills or tablets are made. This can drastically change the way the same dose of a given drug can act in your system.
4. Use one pharmacy for all your medications so they will have a complete database on you and so their system will flag a warning if there’s a potential harmful interaction between two drugs for instance, if they were prescribed unknowingly by two separate physicians.
5. Be very wary of online pharmacies. Some are legit branches of established real-world pharmacies but others are fly-by-night selling everything from useless imitations to repackaged expired ones.
6. Take your medications exactly as prescribed and at the same time each day. This will establish a reliable pattern of blood medication levels and make you more acutely sensitive if something is amiss.
7. Always double check the pill size on new prescriptions. Wrong pill size is the most common prescribing mistake made by both doctors and pharmacists. Be aware of the “usual” size and color and identifying numbers or letters on each pill you take. Taking just twice the dose (or half) from the wrong pill can lead to very dangerous conditions for many common medications.
8. Always read the label on over-the-counter medications to be sure none of your drugs are on their taboo list. This is especially true for pain-pills and cold-remedies.
9. Drink 8 glasses of water a day for two reasons: first, it keeps digestion and uptake of your medications consistent and reliable and second, many prescription drugs have side effects related to the vascular system that will become more pronounced even if you’re mildly dehydrated.
10. Take the little warning stickers regarding driving, operating machinery and using alcohol very seriously. They’re usually there because someone somewhere got very messed up because they didn’t either follow their doctor’s warning, or never got warned at all.
Be safe. Better knowledge means better care decisions regarding your medications. You must be active in the process of your own care.