Common mistakes to avoid when taking over-the-counter or prescribed medicine
Johannesburg – Modern pharmaceuticals have delivered almost miraculous improvements in healthcare over the past hundred years; but unless patients store and take their medicines as prescribed, they won’t get the intended benefits from them, warns Novartis.
Common mistakes made when taking medicines include taking the wrong dose, not finishing prescribed courses, and failing to follow the doctor or pharmacist’s instructions1. These mistakes limit the effectiveness of the course of treatment, and worse, can actually set back your treatment2,3.
“Many people don’t realise why it is important to carefully follow instructions in terms of storing, taking and even disposing of medicines,” says Dr Nicola Lister, Chief Scientific Officer & Medical Director, Novartis Southern Africa. “But medicines are carefully researched and formulated chemical compounds, and in order for them to be effective, they have to be taken as directed.”
For your safety and the best possible outcomes:
- Take medicines exactly as directed. Finish prescribed courses, and don’t skip medicines or reduce your dosage when you’re on chronic medication. “Many patients stop taking medicines when they feel better,” says Lister, “but courses of medicines are prescribed for good reason, and should not be interrupted or simply stopped.”
- Take medicines at the right times. Medicines are carefully formulated to be absorbed in certain ways and remain active in the body for certain lengths of time. So if a prescription directs you to take medicine three times a day, it is important to space the doses 8 hours apart and not just take the medicine at random times throughout the day, to ensure the medicine works as intended.
- Follow the food directions. There are good reasons why a prescription might direct you to take medicines with or after food, so it is important to follow the instructions. “Some medicines can be harsh on the stomach, and some depend on certain pH levels for absorption; so it is important to follow directions on when and how to take medicines,” says Lister.
- Store medicines as directed on the packaging or package insert. “Most medicines are best stored in cool, dry spaces, while some require refrigeration. Storing them in warm or humid areas can degrade them, reducing their effectiveness,” says Lister. Medicines should not be stored in steamy bathrooms, hot cars, or even in a bedside table drawer exposed to warm sunlight. Medicines should always be stored out of reach of children.
- Be aware of potential medicine interactions. Always tell your doctor and pharmacist about any medication you’re already taking. Compounds such as complementary medicines and vitamins can affect medication. “Even something as simple as grapefruit juice affects many medications, therefore it’s important to tell your healthcare provider what you’re already taking,” says Lister.
- Never share prescription medication. Medicines are prescribed with a variety of factors in mind; including the condition being treated, the patient’s medical history and interactions the medicine might have with other treatments the patient is taking. Sharing prescription medicines with friends is dangerous.
- Look out for side effects. “It’s important to read the package insert on medicines and be aware of potential adverse effects. Should you feel suddenly unwell or develop new symptoms after taking medicine, stop taking the medicine and contact your healthcare professional immediately,” says Lister.
- Dispose of eye drops after 30 days. Eye drops are sterile, and are exposed to contamination once opened, therefore they need to be discarded a month after opening them or as directed by your healthcare practitioner.
- Dispose of medicines responsibly. “All medicines have expiry dates, after which they lose efficacy and must be disposed of. But they should not simply be thrown out or flushed down the toilet,” says Lister, “they should be taken to a pharmacy to be disposed of correctly.”
Medicines are formulated for efficacy and patient safety, but the patient plays an important role in ensuring that medicines work as intended. By discussing your treatment with your doctor and pharmacist, reading the package insert and following the prescription carefully, you can help ensure the success of your treatment.
- Factors affecting therapeutic compliance: A review from the patient’s perspective. Jing Jin, Grant Edward Sklar, Vernon Min Sen Oh, and Shu Chuen Li https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2503662/. Accessed 24/04/2018
- Sabaté E, editor. Adherence to long-term therapies: evidence for action. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2003.
- Sanson-Fisher R, Bowman J, Armstrong S. Factors affecting nonadherence with antibiotics. Diagn Microbiol Infect Dis. 1992;15:103S–109S. [PubMed]