Step-by-Step: Taking Multiple Medicines Correctly
If you take more than one medicine each day, you’re at risk for a dangerous drug interaction. Reduce your risk by following these steps.
There’s the water pill you take for your blood pressure before breakfast. And, the other blood pressure medicine you take later on. Then there’s your daily aspirin, the antidepressant you take at bedtime and the pills to help your leg pain. Not to mention the multivitamin and calcium supplement you take daily. You think that’s all of them ….
Does this scene sound familiar? Probably so. Four in 10 adults take four or more prescription medications each day. This doesn’t include over-the-counter (OTC) medications, vitamins or supplements.
Taking multiple medicines is no simple task. If you make a mistake – which is easy to do – such as confusing one drug for another, the consequences could be serious.
1. Understand how powerful medications are
Adverse drug events – when someone is harmed by a medicine – send more than 700,000 people to the emergency room each year. The more drugs you take, the greater your chance for a problem. Seniors are especially at risk. More than half of seniors take five or more medicines each day.
If you make a mistake, such as taking the wrong drug at the wrong time or taking the incorrect medicine, you could suffer several dangerous effects. One is called an adverse drug interaction. This is when one medicine mixes with another and causes a reaction in your body:
- One drug may increase, reduce or neutralize the effects of another drug.
- One medicine can increase the side effects of the other.
- The two drugs together can cause a new, sometimes dangerous effect.
But, with some careful planning and attention to detail, you can avoid harmful drug interactions.
2. Learn how to avoid errors
Before you take a new drug, follow these tips to avoid a dangerous reaction:
- Let all of your doctors know all the drugs you take. Tell each doctor every prescription, nonprescription, vitamin and supplement you take. Better yet, bring them with you in a plastic baggie to each appointment. This can prevent one doctor from prescribing a drug that may interact with a medicine from another doctor.
- Ask your doctor what you need to avoid when taking a new medicine. Not only can drugs interact with each other, but what you eat and drink can have an effect, too. For example, most drugs should not be taken with alcohol. Some should be taken with food, others on an empty stomach.
- Use one pharmacy for all of your medication needs. Your pharmacist can spot if one medicine shouldn’t be taken with another.
- Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking an over-the-counter drug. OTCs, vitamins and supplements are available without a prescription, but this doesn’t mean they’re risk-free. Find out which ones are safe for you to use.
Try these tips to take your medications safely at home:
- Arrange your medicines in a pill organizer. Refill the pill organizer each day or week. Make sure it has enough compartments for all the times of the day you need your drugs – separate slots for morning, noon, evening and night.
- Keep a daily checklist. Use this along with your pill organizer. Make sure to include all drugs, including prescriptions, OTCs, vitamins and supplements. List the name of the drug, the dose and what time it should be taken. Check off a box when you take the medicine. This way you can easily see if you have taken the pill or not. Use a new copy of the checklist each day.
- Take your medicine in a well-lit room to make sure you are taking the correct pill.
- Have an alarm go off when you need your medication. Set your wristwatch or the alarm on your phone.
- Always read the label before taking the medicine. And keep all drugs in their original containers until you place them in the pill organizer. You’ll be less likely to mistake one pill for another.
- Take your medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Be sure to take the right dose at the right time.
- Understand why you need each medication. This may make it easier to stick with taking it.
- Check expiration dates. Properly throw away expired medicines. Ask your pharmacist how to do this.
- Only take medication that is prescribed to you. Never use anyone else’s prescription.
- Don’t stop taking a drug without being directed by your doctor. Even though you feel better, you may still need the medicine.
3. Know when to call your doctor
Call your doctor if you:
- Have any problems taking your medication
- Experience any side effects or notice a change in the way you feel
- Take the wrong pill
- Take the incorrect dose of medicine – too much or too little – or miss a dose
- Have questions about your medication