|By Dr. Dorothy
Expert in safe medication use, author of 23 books for consumers
on prescription drugs, and President of Consumer Health Information
Vol. 1 No. 4
Control of Your Medicines" is a newsletter
One of the
goals of Consumer Health Information Corporation
is to help consumers better understand how to
manage their prescription medicines safely.
errors made by patients are linked to hundreds
of thousands of death a year and cost this country
nearly $180 billion in extra medical treatment.
It is our firm belief that people can only receive
the full benefit of their treatments if they know
how to take control of their medicines.
can only work if they are taken correctly.
- Know the Early Warning Signs of a Side Effect
You need to
know how to recognize the early symptoms of common
side effects and how to manage side effects that
may be annoying but are minor. You also need to
know when you should contact your doctor because
of a side effect.
If you do
not understand a medical term, do not be embarrassed
to ask what that term means. If you receive written
instructions that just list side effects that
could occur, ask for more information. Keep asking
until you understand it!
Side Effects and Get the Most from Your Medicines
study linking one form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
to an increase in the risk of heart disease and breast cancer
has many women questioning if they should continue the therapy.
The answer is that they should not panic and, instead, talk
with their doctor about the specific benefits and risks of
HRT to them. In some women, the benefits of HRT may outweigh
any risks the treatment poses.
Today's prescription medicines
can enhance the quality of life, and in some cases even save
lives. But, as in the case of HRT, they sometimes come with
unwanted side effects.
Some side effects are
rare, such as those found with HRT. Others are more common,
such as the queasy stomach or dizziness some people experience
when starting a new medicine. Side effects can occur even
when the medicine is being taken exactly as the doctor prescribed.
Often, there are simple
steps that can be taken to manage the minor side effects.
This allows the person to continue taking the medicine so
they can get the full benefit from the therapy.
When starting a new medicine,
it is important to know:
- "What are the possible side effects?"
- "What can you do to manage the minor
- "What are the early warning signs
of symptoms of side effects that could be serious and prompt
you to call your doctor?"
A new brochure on "Managing
Side Effects" has just been released by the National Council
on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE), a nonprofit
coalition representing healthcare professionals, consumers
and patients, the pharmaceutical industry, voluntary health
agencies and federal and state governments. NCPIE works to
promote the appropriate use of medicines.
Consumer Health Information
Corporation is a member of the Board of Directors of NCPIE
and collaborated with NCPIE in the development of this consumer
The first in a series
called "Get the Most From Your Medicines," this handy brochure
provides an easy-to-read discussion of side effects and what
you can do to manage them. One section provides useful tips
on steps you can take to deal with minor side effects such
as mild stomach upset, mild diarrhea, dizziness, dry mouth,
and other annoying symptoms.
To find out how to get
a copy, go to the NCPIE website at www.talkaboutrx.org.
2002 Summer Intern, Consumer Health Information Corporation,
contributed to this article. She is a Final Year Pharmacy
Student, University of Manchester, Manchester, England.)
Sign Your Rights Away
Consumer Health Information Corporation
to half of patients don't take their medicines correctly because
they lack the information they need to take them safely and
effectively. Yet every day, consumers "sign away" their rights
to talk to their pharmacist and never get information they
By law, every patient
who comes to a pharmacy to pick up a prescription must be
offered the opportunity to talk with the pharmacist about
the proper use of the medicine. However, many community pharmacies
give patients the opportunity to sign a form that waives their
rights to receive this valuable consultation.
If you sign away your
rights to receive this consultation, you may never learn how
to manage the day-to-day questions or problems that always
surface after you have been taking the medicine for a few
days, weeks or months. If you don't know how to manage your
medicines correctly or when to call your doctor for advice,
you could run into serious trouble and suffer a setback.
Pharmacists are experts
in drug information and are trained in all areas of drug therapy.
If your pharmacist does not already provide you with the following
types of information, request these tools as well as time
with the pharmacist to answer any questions you might have.
Remember, it's better to be safe than sorry!
Services You Can Request
Everyone is different. No patient has exactly the same
medical problems, weight, age, or is taking exactly the
same medicines. This is why you must be sure that your
pharmacist (as well as your doctor) knows all the medicines
you are taking and anything that can affect how you might
respond to the new medicine.
must keep all the information you provide confidential.
Request that your consultation be in an area of the
pharmacy that is private. You don't want anyone else
Since it is almost
impossible for anyone to remember all the facts about
each medicine, make as many notes as possible during
the meeting and make sure you understand the written
set of instructions the pharmacist will give you. It
also gives you a chance to ask questions about any of
your medicines or health conditions that are specific
When you receive your prescription, you
should also get "how to take" instructions for that
specific medicine. This information is very important
and will explain how to recognize the early warning
signs of possible side effects. Some of the side effects
might just be minor ones that you can safely self-treat
at home. Others could be more serious and require a
visit to your doctor.
Not all Patient
Information Sheets are the same and they can vary between
pharmacies. Do not hesitate to ask questions if the
wording is unclear or does not make sense to you. It
is very difficult to translate medical terms into language
that can be understood by everyone and some sheets might
just be too technical for people to understand. Others
may be too brief and not provide enough information.
Never be embarrassed to ask what the instructions mean.
If you do not understand this information, the sheet
is useless and you increase your risk of making mistakes
once you start taking the drug.
Since the Patient
Information Sheets are written for the drug, they will
not contain any additional information you might need
because of your personal medical problems or other drugs
you are taking. This is why it is always a good idea
to write down any notes about how to take the new medicine
on the Patient Information Sheet. While Patient Information
Sheets can never be a substitute for a consultation
with your pharmacist, they can help you remember what
your doctor and pharmacist have told you about the drug
Medicine Aids to
Make Drug Administration Easier
If you know from past experience
that you are probably going to have trouble remembering
when to take your medicine or when to get your refills,
explain this to your pharmacist. There are many simple
and inexpensive medicine aids available, such as pill
boxes, reminder calendars, stickers, and special packaging
that will make it easier to remember.
If you don't know
how to use your inhaler for asthma correctly, there
are special aids called spacers that will help you make
sure you can get the medicine deep down into the lungs
so that it can work. The asthma medicine inside the
inhaler can't help you if you only squirt it on the
back of your throat.
If you have to cut
a tablet in half, there are small pill cutters that
will give you a sharp cut. It's much better than using
a kitchen knife and risk cutting yourself or having
the tablet split in the wrong place so that the dose
you get is not exactly half.
These are just some
of the types of tools a pharmacist has to help you take
your medication correctly.
or Mail Refill Reminders
If you find that you are forgetting to get
your refills and run out of the medicine, ask your pharmacist
if you could receive a reminder in either the mail or
It is so important
to not run out of medicine if you have a long-term condition
such as a heart condition, high blood pressure or epilepsy.
A continuous supply is also important if you are taking
medicines that MUST be taken every day and never stopped
suddenly such as medicines for treatment of asthma,
heart failure, depression, or prevention of blood clots.
There are many more examples. Once your body gets used
to receiving a dose of these medicines every day, you
could have serious withdrawal problems if you forget
your medicine refill and go without the medicine for
Pharmacists often keep a "library" of useful
information to share with a patient. Videotapes, books,
brochures, and pamphlets are just a few of the resources
developed to help you understand how to use your medication.
Some pharmacies have the Patient Library in a small
quiet room so that you can read up on your illness or
drug therapy while you are waiting to have your prescription
If your pharmacy publishes a patient newsletter,
get on the mailing list. It will provide you with current
information on new advances in the treatment of diseases
and tips about how to take medicines safely. These newsletters
often have coupons that you can use in the pharmacy
as well. Although these newsletters do not contain information
that may be specific to you, they often include general
tips on getting the most from your medication.
No one ever wants to take
unnecessary risks with their health. Your chances of having
a problem with your medicine are higher if you do not make
sure you understand how to take your medicine right from the
So if you are ever asked
if you would like to sign away your right to have a consultation
with your pharmacist, refuse to sign the form and explain
that you really want to have the pharmacist explain your medicine
Remember that it is your
right and in your best interest to speak with your pharmacist.
The more you know about your medicine, the better you will
be able to help treat your illness safely and effectively.
2002 Summer Intern, Consumer Health Information Corporation,
contributed to this article. She is a Doctor of Pharmacy candidate
at Purdue University.)
Consumer Health Information Corporation
is an internationally recognized leader in the development
and production of patient education programs for pharmaceutical
companies, managed care organizations, and consumers.
8300 Greensboro Drive, Suite 1220
| McLean, Virginia 22102
(703) 734-0650 | Fax (703)
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© 2002 Consumer Health Information
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