Find the Facts
Before you and your team decide on a prescription or OTC medicine, learn and understand as much about it as you can, including:
- brand and generic (chemical) names
- active ingredients – to make sure that you aren’t using more than one medicine with the same active ingredient
- inactive ingredients – if you have any problems with ingredients in medicines, such as colors, flavors, starches, sugars
- uses (“indications” and “contraindications”) – why you will be using it, and when the medicine should/should not be used
- warnings (“precautions”) – safety measures to make sure the medicine is used the right way, and to avoid harm
- possible interactions – substances that should not be used while using the medicine. Find out if other prescription and OTC medicines, food, dietary supplements, or other things (like alcohol and tobacco) could cause problems with the medicine
- side effects (“adverse reactions”) – unwanted effects that the medicine can cause, and what to do if you get them
- possible tolerance, dependence, or addiction – problems that some medicines can cause, and what you can do to avoid them
- overdose – what to do if you use too much
- directions – usual dose; what to do if you miss a dose; special directions on how to use the medicine, such as whether to take it with or without food
- storage instructions – how and where to keep the medicine
- expiration – date after which the medicine may not work, or may be harmful to use
Your pharmacy, the library, the bookstore, the medicine maker, and the Internet have medicine information made for consumers. If you have questions, ask your health care team.
Evaluate your Choices – Weigh the Benefits and Risks
After you have all the information, think carefully about your choices. Think about the helpful effects as well as the possible unwanted effects. Decide which are most important to you. This is how you weigh the benefits and risks. The expert advice from your health care team and the information you give the team can help guide you and your team in making the decision that is right for you.
Read the Label and Follow Directions
Read the label to know what active ingredient(s) is (are) in the medicine. The active ingredient in a prescription or OTC medicine might be in other medicines you use. Using too much of any active ingredient may increase your chance of unwanted side effects.
Read the label each time you buy an OTC medicine or fill your prescription. When buying an OTC, read the “Drug Facts” label carefully to make sure it is the right medicine for you. Prescription and OTC medicines don’t always mix well with each other. Dietary supplements (like vitamins and herbals) and some foods and drinks can cause problems with your medicines too. Ask the pharmacist if you have questions.