What You Should Know About Your Drugs

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Whether synthetic or natural (herbal), drugs are intended to act on the body. There always is a chance that they will produce effects that we do not want. Also, if two or more drugs are taken at the same time, there is a chance that one drug will interact with another drug in either a positive or negative way. This does not imply that the drugs are bad, but rather that they should be used carefully in order to reap the greatest benefit while minimizing unwanted side effects. Indeed, when used properly, most drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration do more good than harm. Below are ten questions that apply to most drugs and are worth discussing with your healthcare provider. Most of these issues are addressed by the information that is provided with the drug.

What is the drug used for?

Drugs often have more than one use. Understanding why a drug is prescribed improves your knowledge about the drug and the condition for which it is prescribed. This promotes compliance with treatment.

How does the drug work?

Knowing how the drug works provides the rationale for its use in the treatment of a particular disease. This also promotes adherence to treatment.

How should the drug be taken?

The optimal dose and timing of ingestion of a drug is determined by scientific studies. Drugs provide their greatest benefit when they are taken as prescribed. Deviating from the prescribed dose often leads to failure of the therapy or to side effects. However, in some circumstances (for example, when severe side effects occur), changes in dose may be appropriate, but they should be discussed with a health care practitioner as soon as possible.

What should you do if you miss a dose?

Despite the best of efforts, eventually everyone misses one or more doses of a medication. The remedy for this situation depends on the drug. For some drugs, simply taking the missed dose as soon as possible is appropriate. For other drugs, it is more appropriate to wait and double the next scheduled dose. (However, this can be dangerous with some drugs.) Since the recommendations differ for each drug, knowing which is the correct remedy can prevent therapy from failing and side effects from occurring.

What are the drug's side effects?

Since drugs provide a benefit by modifying processes in the body, it is not surprising that they also have side effects. Successful drug therapy produces the desired beneficial effect without side effects. Therefore, it is important to know what a drug's side effects are so that they can be recognized, prevented, and acted upon appropriately when they occur.

What substances interact with the drug?

Interactions with drugs are common and they can cause side effects or reduce the beneficial effect of the drug. Sometimes, the interaction may promote a beneficial effect. Knowing which interacting agents to avoid while taking a drug (for example, food and herbal drugs) will prevent failure of therapy and side effects.

What should you expect the drug to do?

Some drugs cure the condition for which they are prescribed while other drugs provide only relief from symptoms. Some drugs provide an immediate benefit while other drugs require more time to be effective. To determine whether the drug is working as intended, it is important to know the expected result and how long it will take to see that result.

How should the drug be stored?

Most medications are stored at room temperature. However, some medications require special storage conditions in order to avoid premature deterioration of the drug.

Should you use a generic version of the drug?

Generic drugs work like the brand name drugs, but they are cheaper. Purchasing a generic instead of the brand name drug can often reduce the cost of therapy while providing the same benefit.

What laboratory tests should be done to monitor the effects of the drug?

Some drugs are monitored with laboratory tests. Adjustments of a medication's dose may be based on the results of the tests. For safe and effective use of these drugs, the laboratory tests should be performed at the recommended intervals.

Last Editorial Review: 10/28/2009

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