Medicines and medication management
What Should I Ask My Doctor During a Checkup?
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Asking questions is key to good communication with your doctor. If you don’t ask questions, he or she may assume you already know the answer or that you don’t want more information. Don’t wait for the doctor to raise a specific question or subject; he or she may not know it’s important to you. Be proactive. Ask questions when you don’t know the meaning of a word (like aneurysm, hypertension, or infarct) or when instructions aren’t clear (for example, does taking medicine with food mean before, during, or after a meal?).
COVID-19 and doctor visits
Due to COVID-19, health care providers may offer more telehealth services to keep patients and health care providers safe. You can talk to your health care provider online through video or email, or by phone.
Learn more about COVID-19 and doctor visits.
Learn about medical tests
Sometimes, doctors need to do blood tests, X-rays, or other procedures to find out what is wrong or to learn more about your medical condition. Some tests, such as Pap tests, mammograms, glaucoma tests, and screenings for prostate and colorectal cancer, are done regularly to check for hidden medical problems.
Before having a medical test, ask your doctor to explain why it is important, what it will show, and what it will cost. Ask what kind of things you need to do to prepare for the test. For example, you may need to have an empty stomach, or you may have to provide a urine sample. Ask how you will be notified of the test results and how long they will take to come in.
Questions to ask your doctor before a medical test
When the results are ready, make sure the doctor tells you what they are and explains what they mean. You may want to ask your doctor for a written copy of the test results. If the test is done by a specialist, ask to have the results sent to your primary doctor.
Can I find information about medical tests online?
Yes—there is a lot of information online about medical tests. The National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus website provides links to many trustworthy resources. You can get information on preparing for lab tests, explanations of different tests, and tips on interpreting lab test results.
Discuss your diagnosis and what to expect
A diagnosis identifies your disease or physical problem. The doctor makes a diagnosis based on the symptoms you are experiencing and the results of the physical exam, laboratory work, and other tests.
If you understand your medical condition, you can help make better decisions about treatment. If you know what to expect, it may be easier for you to deal with the condition.
Ask the doctor to tell you the name of the condition and why he or she thinks you have it. Ask how it may affect you and how long it might last. Some medical problems never go away completely. They can’t be cured, but they can be treated or managed.
Questions to ask your doctor about your diagnosis
Understand your medications
Your doctor may prescribe a drug for your condition. Make sure you know the name of the drug and understand why it has been prescribed for you. Ask the doctor to write down how often and for how long you should take it.
Make notes about any other special instructions. If you are taking other medications, make sure your doctor knows what they are, so he or she can prevent harmful drug interactions. Check with your doctor’s office before taking any over-the-counter medications.
Let the doctor know if your medicine doesn’t seem to be working or if it is causing problems. If you want to stop taking your medicine, check with your doctor first.
You may find it helpful to keep a chart of all the medicines you take and when you take them. Download, print, and copy the Medications worksheet.
Medicines: Common Questions Answered
People who are over 65 years old tend to take more medicines than any other age group. Because older adults may have a number of diseases or health problems at the same time, it is common for them to take many different kinds of drugs. Here are some answers to common questions older adults may have about their medications.
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I’ve been taking the same prescription medicine for years. Even though I’m careful to take the same amount as always, the medicine is not working like it did in the past. What is happening?
As you age, normal changes happen in the body. You lose water and muscle tone. Also, your kidneys and liver may not pass the drugs as quickly through your system as when you were younger. This means that many medicines act differently in older people. Medicine may take longer to leave your system. Talk to your doctor if you think your medicine is not working as it should.
Why should I talk to my doctor about the herbal remedies, vitamins, and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines I take, along with my regular prescriptions?
It is very important to tell your doctor about all the medicines you take. Taking certain OTC medicines with your prescription drugs can be dangerous. For example, you should not take aspirin if you take warfarin (Coumadin®, Jantoven®) for heart problems.
Some OTC drugs, vitamins, and other remedies can lead to serious problems if used too often or with certain other drugs. Combining drugs without talking to your doctor could make you sick.
Why do I need to keep track of the active ingredients in my medications?
Learn which active ingredients are in the prescription and OTC medicines you take so that you don’t take more than one medicine that contains the same active ingredient(s). For example, if your cough syrup contains acetaminophen, don’t take it at the same time as a pain reliever that contains acetaminophen. Taking more than one medicine with the same active ingredient could result in getting too much of that ingredient, which could damage your liver or lead to other serious health problems.
My doctor used abbreviations in my prescription, but I’m not sure what they mean. How do I find out?
Doctors and pharmacists often use abbreviations or terms that may not be familiar. Here is an explanation of some of the most common abbreviations you will see on the labels of your prescription medications:
|Common Abbreviations for Prescriptions|
|b.i.d.||twice a day|
|t.i.d.||three times a day|
|q.i.d.||four times a day|
What are side effects?
Unwanted or unexpected symptoms or feelings, such as upset stomach, sleepiness, and dizziness, that happen when you take a medicine are called side effects. Some side effects happen just when you start taking a medicine. Some happen only once in a while. But other side effects may make you want to stop taking the medicine. Tell your doctor if this happens. He or she may be able to prescribe a different medicine or help you deal with side effects in other ways.
I’m getting sick to my stomach a lot since I started my new pills. Some days I feel so sick I think about not taking the medicine. What should I do?
Talk to your doctor about any side effects before you stop taking any medicines. Your doctor may have tips that can help, such as eating a light snack with your pills. You may want to talk to your doctor about switching to a new medicine.
What does it mean to take medicines on an empty stomach?
Taking medicines on an empty stomach means that you should take your pills 2 hours before you eat or 2 hours after you eat.
In both cases, your stomach will be empty enough for the pills to work.
I’m feeling better. Is it okay to stop taking my medicine?
No, even if you are feeling better, you should not stop taking your prescription drug unless your doctor says it is okay.
Saving Money on Medicines
Medicines can be costly. If they are too expensive for you, the doctor may be able to suggest less expensive alternatives. If the doctor does not know the cost, ask the pharmacist before filling the prescription. You can ask your doctor if there is a generic or other less expensive choice. Your doctor may also be able to refer you to a medical assistance program that can help with drug costs.
Ask your insurance company for a copy of your drug plan “formulary”—the list of all medicines covered by your insurance company—and bring it to your doctors’ appointments. Together, you and your doctor can evaluate the choice of medicines that will be most cost effective.
You might be thinking about buying your medicines online to save some money. It’s important to know which websites are safe and reliable. The Food and Drug Administration has safety tips for buying medicines and medical products online.
Some insurance drug plans offer special prices on medicines if you order directly from them rather than filling prescriptions at a pharmacy. Contact the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to learn about Medicare prescription drug plans that may help save you money, or review Medicare.gov Part D drug coverage. You can also contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program. If you are a veteran, the Department of Veterans Affairs may also be able to help with your prescriptions.
Here are some websites that can provide additional assistance:
Safe Use of Medicines for Older Adults
Medicines help us live longer and healthier. But, taking them the wrong way or mixing certain drugs can be dangerous. You need to be careful to keep track of your medicines and use them safely.
What Are Medicines? What Are Drugs?
Medicines, often referred to as drugs, can be:
Make sure your doctor knows about ALL the medicines you take. This includes those prescribed by other doctors, as well as vitamins, supplements, herbal remedies, and over-the-counter drugs you use every now and then.
What You Need to Know About Your Medicines
Talk with your doctor, nurse, or other healthcare provider before starting a new medicine. Go over your allergies and any problems you have had with other medicines, such as rashes, trouble breathing, indigestion, dizziness, or mood changes.
You will also want to find out whether you’ll need to change or stop taking any of your other prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs while using this new medicine. Mixing some drugs can cause unpleasant and sometimes serious problems. For instance, it is dangerous to use aspirin when taking a blood-thinning medicine.
Because of this, it is important to keep a list of all prescription drugs and over-the-counter remedies you take. Print and fill out the Tracking Your Medications: Worksheet to help you keep track of your medications.
When starting a new medication, make sure to write down the name of the drug and why it’s being prescribed for you. Also, make note of any special instructions for how to take the medicine.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor About a New Medicine
Each time you visit your doctor, tell him or her about new medicines you’re taking, and be sure to ask if you still need to be on all your medications.
How Can a Pharmacist Help?
A pharmacist can answer many of your questions about prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs. Try to have all your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy so your records are in one place. This will help alert the pharmacist if a new drug might cause a problem with something else you are taking. If you’re not able to use just one pharmacy, show the pharmacist at each pharmacy your list of medicines and over-the-counter drugs when you drop off your prescription.
When you have a prescription filled:
Check the label to ensure you are not allergic to any of the ingredients. Make sure your doctor and pharmacist have an up-to-date list of your allergies so they don’t give you a medicine that contains something you are allergic to.
Learn how to read a prescription label in the free booklet Safe Use of Medicines: Take Your Medicines the Right Way—Each Day!
Talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions about the written information that comes with your prescription.
Medications and Traveling
Before you travel, ask your doctor or pharmacist how to adjust your medicine schedule to account for changes in time zones, routine, and diet. Bring the phone numbers of your doctors and pharmacists with you. Carry a list of all the medications you take with you. When flying, carry your medicines with you; do not pack them in your checked luggage. Take enough medication with you in case you need to stay longer. When traveling, always keep medicines out of heat and direct sunlight.
Unwanted or unexpected symptoms or feelings that occur when you take medicine are called side effects. Side effects can be relatively minor, such as a headache or a dry mouth. They can also be life-threatening, such as severe bleeding or irreversible damage to the liver or kidneys. Medications’ side effects also can affect your driving.
If you experience side effects, write them down so you can report them to your doctor accurately. Call your doctor right away if you have any problems with your medicines or if you are worried that the medicine might be doing more harm than good. He or she may be able to change your medication to another that will work just as well.
Generic or Brand Name–What’s the Difference?
Most generic and brand-name medicines act the same way in the body. They contain the same active ingredients—the part of the medicine that makes it work. A generic drug should be just as safe as a brand-name drug. They should both be of equal strength and quality. You take a generic drug the same way as a brand-name drug.
Keeping Track of Your Medicines
Here are some tips to help you keep track of all your medicines:
Taking Medicines Safely
Here are some tips to help you take your medicines safely:
Can I Get Addicted to Pain Medicine?
Anyone can become addicted to prescription pain medicines. Never take more medicine than the doctor prescribes. Read more about opioids and prescription pain medicines .
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