Cliff Keltner, a clinical pharmacist affiliated with Sharp, explains how to understand the medications you take.
Why do I need to take a particular medicine?
The reason why you need to take a particular medicine is usually one of two things. The doctor is either prescribing you a medication because they’re trying to treat a particular disease or they’re trying to treat a particular symptom, like you have a runny nose.
Who should I ask about drug interactions?
Your pharmacist is probably one of your best resources to ensure that your medications do not interact with each other. The pharmacist screens those medications to make sure that any combination of drugs won’t have a bad reaction.
Does every medication have side effects?
Every medication has their own unique side effects and each individual experiences those side effects differently, so it’s really important to speak with your doctor or your pharmacist and find out what type of side effects that you may experience with those medications so that you can recognize them if they do occur.
How do I know how many pills that I should take with the medication?
The amount of pills that you should take with the medication is usually explicitly written in the prescription itself and you really should never deviate from that.
Should I always take my medication with food?
It’s always important to understand whether your medicine can be taken with food or is best to be taken on an empty stomach. Some medications are better absorbed with food while others have a limited absorption or do not get in your bodies quite as well if you take it on an empty stomach.
Does alcohol interact with all medications?
Alcohol may interact with certain medications, especially medications that cause sedation or make you sleepy. In the elderly population, certain populations have an increased risk of falling if they become overly sedated. So patients need to be cautious about combining medications with alcohol and should always speak with their doctor or pharmacist.
What if the medication is not working?
If you feel that the medication is not working, it’s important to have a clear understanding what to do next, whether you should stop taking the medication or whether you should contact your physician and find out instruction whether to stop or continue taking the medication.
Is it safe to share medications with a friend or family member?
There are several reasons why you shouldn’t share your medications with a friend or family member. The first is that although the symptoms might seem similar, it might be a completely different condition. Another reason why you wouldn’t want to share medications with a friend or family member is due to a possible allergy. Another reason would be a potential drug interaction as well if your friend or family member has taken other medications that may interact with it and also the dose of the medication may not be the right dose. It might be too high or too low for your friend.
I don't like to take the full dose, can I split my pill?
Cutting or splitting medication is very common and sometimes you need to do that to get the right dose amount of medication or just make it easier for someone to swallow that tablet, but not all medications can be split or crushed. This can be very dangerous especially in medications that are used to deliver the drug over a long period or extended release tablet. You might get a large dose of the medication all at once. Depending on the condition being treated, it’s important to take the medication for the full course depending on how the doctor has directed it. For example, for an antibiotic for an infection, patients typically feel better after their first couple of days, but it’s really important to finish the full course of the medication.
Is it safe to take an expired medication?
Generally speaking, it’s not recommended to take any expired medication mainly for two reasons. One, most drug manufacturers cannot guarantee the potency of any medication or the strength of the medication past the expiration. Secondly, since there’s not a lot of information or data on expired medications, there’s some medications that actually have different side effects or more side effects after they become expired.
For More Information
To learn more about Sharp's senior health services or to find a Sharp-affiliated physician, search for San Diego doctors or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm. To find general information about senior health, read the Senior Health News archive.
About the Expert
Cliff Keltner is a clinical pharmacist affiliated with Sharp.