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July 6, 2021 • read
Questions to ask when you’re prescribed something new
Taking your medication improperly can render it ineffective or worse, so it’s important to get it right. Unfortunately, almost 40% of Canadians don’t take their medications as directed. The reasons for this are complex, but part of it comes down to a lack of information. When it comes to a new prescription, doctors and pharmacists are there to provide answers, but they rely on you to ask specific questions. Here’s what to ask your provider whenever you’re prescribed something new.
It’s all about timing
Dosage guidelines should always be visible on medicines — prescription or otherwise. But there’s more to a prescription than knowing how and when to take it. What about if you accidentally forget to take a dose? Is doubling up once you remember ok? Or, if it’s almost time for your next dose, should you skip the missed dose entirely? In addition, it’s important to know if you should continue to take the medication until you finish it, or if you can stop taking it once your symptoms abate. What’s more, you need to know if there are any length-of-use limitations. Certain heartburn medications, for example, are great for occasional relief of acute symptoms, but you shouldn’t use them daily.
Besides scheduling, timing is an important component of taking a drug. Some drugs need to be taken with food, for example, or you risk upsetting your stomach. Others, like certain erectile dysfunction medications, might not work as well if you take them immediately following a meal. Some drugs, like certain forms of birth control, are extremely sensitive to timing, and missing your dose by even a few hours can make them significantly less effective. Given how important timing can be for certain medications, don’t be shy about asking your healthcare provider the “whens” of taking your prescription.
How will this medication interact with your other medications?
If you’re already taking medication, adding another prescription to the mix can throw everything out of whack. Mixing medications can get tricky — certain medications lose effectiveness when combined with others, while mixing others can cause dangerous and even life-threatening side effects. Make sure your provider knows which medications you are already taking, both over-the-counter and prescription. Vitamins and supplements can also interact with prescription medications, so don’t forget to include them as well. The best way to do this is to bring any boxes or prescription bottles with you to your appointment. And don’t worry about being refused treatment if there’s a medication conflict — your provider can offer an alternative if need be.
How will my new prescription impact my current health conditions?
If you have pre-existing conditions, your primary care team can walk you through the effects your new medication may have on those. Even if you think your new prescription won’t affect an underlying health condition, you should still double check with your doctor and pharmacist. The human body is complex, and no part of it acts in isolation. Certain antibiotics and beta-blockers, for example, can affect blood sugar levels, making them dangerous for individuals with diabetes. Anytime you’re prescribed medication by any healthcare provider, they should have a full picture of your health.
What information should you share with your pharmacist?
You shouldn’t be the only one asking questions when you’re getting a new prescription. Both your provider and your pharmacist should know your health background. If you have any underlying health conditions, or are pregnant or breastfeeding, your team needs to know. It’s also important that you share other lifestyle specifics with them. If you use drugs or alcohol recreationally, your provider should know, as that may impact which medications they prescribe you. Likewise, if you have trouble sticking to a timetable and think you might have difficulty taking medications on a schedule, let your provider know. You may be offered accommodation or an alternative form of medication — like an IUD instead of oral contraception, for example.
What are the side effects?
Side effects are often high on the list of concerns with a new prescription, and with good reason. Side effects can range from mild to severe, in some cases even affecting your overall quality of life. It’s worth exploring the pros and cons of your new medication with your provider. You might find that some of the potential side effects can be mitigated. A medication that upsets the stomach, for instance, might be less troublesome if you cut out caffeine while you take it. Certain side effects, however, are unavoidable. Without knowing the trade-offs or potential effects, it’s impossible to make an informed decision.
Getting a new prescription may seem simple, making it tempting to leave the details to your healthcare team. But it’s crucial that you understand your own treatment. Don’t be shy about asking your doctor and pharmacist in-depth questions about any new medications — and make sure they’re aware of anything pertinent regarding your health. You need to feel comfortable with your new prescription, and your provider needs a full picture of your health to prescribe appropriately.