Playing an active role in your plan of care has many advantages—including when it comes to managing your medicines. Make sure your healthcare provider knows all prescription and over-the-counter meds you are taking. These include vitamins, herbal supplements and topical ointments. And always tell your healthcare provider if you have any concerns.
Keep reading for important medicine safety tips.
Take medicines as prescribed by your healthcare provider
To help prevent side effects and possible complications, always take your medicine according to your health care provider’s instructions.
- Don’t stop taking a medicine unless your healthcare provider tells you to do so—even if you start to feel better.
- Never take medicine prescribed for someone else or share meds. This can be dangerous.
- Never take medicine in the dark. Always turn on the light and check the label first.
If you have trouble remembering how and when to take your meds, try using a pill planner, calendar or medication log. If you can’t get your meds because of financial or transportation issues, tell your provider. They may be able to find resources in your area to help.
Learn about side effects and possible interactions
Know the difference between adverse drug reactions and side effects. Side effects are usually mild and go away after you stop taking the medicine. Adverse drug reactions may be more harmful. They usually mean you need a different dosage or are having an allergic reaction.
Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you think you are experiencing a side effect or adverse reaction from one of your meds.
- Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines prescribed by other providers. This will help reduce the risk of interactions.
- Tell your healthcare provider about any past reactions to medications like rashes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, dizziness or forgetfulness.
- Try to fill your prescriptions at one pharmacy so the pharmacist can monitor drug interactions.
- Call your healthcare provider or 911 immediately if you have trouble breathing; skin rashes, itching or hives; swelling of the lips, tongue or throat; dizziness or fainting; stomach pain; vomiting or diarrhea.
Store medicines properly and check expiration dates
Storing your medicines correctly can help to ensure they are safe and effective. Meds that are not stored properly may not work as well or may cause harm, even if they are not expired.1
- Follow the instructions on the label to make sure you are storing your meds correctly.
- Discard old or expired medicines. Some lose effect, others become stronger and some may even become dangerous to your health.
Keep an updated list of your meds
Write down all the medicines you are taking including prescription and over-the-counter meds, vitamins and herbal supplements on this medication log. Keep your list up to date, and include any changes made by your healthcare provider.
Ask your healthcare provider about your medicines
Whether you were prescribed a new medicine recently or have been taking your meds for a while, there are important questions you should ask your healthcare provider:
- What is the name of this medicine (both generic and brand name)?
- Why am I taking it? What does it treat?
- How often should I take this medicine?
- How should I take the medicine? By mouth, injection or by applying to the skin?
- What time of the day should I take my meds?
- Should I take the medicine with food or on an empty stomach?
- What should I do if I miss a dose?
- Is it safe to take over-the-counter products, such as vitamins, minerals or herbal supplements, with this medicine?
- What are the common side effects of this medicine?
- What do I do if I begin to have side effects or an adverse reaction?
- Where should I keep a list of my meds?
- How should I store my medicine? Does it need to be refrigerated?
- Can my medicine be refilled? How many times?
- Can I drink alcohol with this medicine?
- “4 Medication Safety Tips for Older Adults,”S. Food & Drug Administration, last accessed March 27, 2023.