Tips for taking your medication correctly

To get the most out of your medication, it is important to know the 'best practice' of how to take it.

Published: Thursday 20 June 2019



To get the most benefit out of your medication, it is important to take it exactly as the doctor has prescribed them or if they are over the counter medications, as they are directed in the leaflet. You are more likely to see your health improve when you take your medication as per the instructions.

Is there any information that I should share with my healthcare provider?

Always tell them if you are:

  • Taking any medication, prescribed, over the counter (OTC) and any supplements.
  • Allergic to any medications.
  • Pregnant or plan to be pregnant.
  • Breastfeeding.

Useful questions to ask your healthcare provider:

  • How often do I need to take the medication?
  • Should I take it with food?
  • Where should I store the medication?
  • Is there a specific time I should take it?
  • Can I take it if I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?
  • What are the side effects?
  • What happens if I miss a dose and what should I do?
  • Does the medication interact with any food/alcohol/other medications?

Overdosing

Regardless of the intent, taking too much of your medication is very dangerous, and in some cases fatal. Sometimes, you might accidentally overdose on your medication but this can be prevented.

How can accidental overdoses happen?

  • You do not follow the instructions given by your doctor or pharmacist.
  • You take more than one medicine with the same active ingredient.
  • Inaccurately measure your medicine, e.g. using a tablespoon rather than a teaspoon.
  • You forget if you have already taken the medicine.

Signs and Symptoms

Some signs and symptoms to look out for include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Severe breathing difficulties
  • Blue fingers or lips
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abnormally high body temperature
  • Snoring or gurgling
  • Paranoia
  • Unconsciousness or unresponsiveness

The symptoms of a medical overdose will depend on the type of medication. Not all symptoms may be experienced but even if some are experienced, then you should call an ambulance as medical attention will be required immediately.

Useful tips

  • Do not take more or less of the medication, unless directed by your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Never take medication that is prescribed for someone else.
  • Do not break, crush or chew the medication unless you have been instructed to do so.
  • Keep a pill organiser to help you stay on track of your medications.
  • Avoid mixing your medication with alcohol.

Shelf life of medications

Do medicines expire?

Can I take expired medications?

Which medications should never be used after their expiration date?


These questions arise for many patients because medications are generally expensive to buy, so to replace expired and unused medications will be costly.

Since the late 70’s, all drug manufacturers have been required to state an expiration date on their products, whether it is prescription, OTC or herbal supplements. You would normally think that this is the last date the medication would be effective and safe to use however, it reflects a period where the product is known by the manufacturer to have maximum strength, quality and purity if placed in the correct storage conditions as per the labelling.

Are there potential risks related to expired medications?

Drugs treating non serious conditions may be suitable to use after their expiration date but there is no guarantee of its efficacy and safety. It’s important to note that the potency of the medication will be 90% effective until the date of expiration so the effects won’t be as strong after that date. Research into whether there is a risk of taking medications after its expiration date has not been fully explored as of yet. When drug manufacturers determine the longevity of the drug, it is based on the active and inactive ingredients in the medications which help them decipher the best possible shelf life. There may not be serious side effects taking expired medication, but you won’t get the maximum benefit, so it is more worth your while to consider buying new medication.

Storing medications

All medication has its own recommended storage conditions which can range from room temperature, refrigeration or freezing. Check with your doctor or pharmacist if there are any specific storage conditions of the medications you are taking. Most medications are required to be placed in a cool dry place, away from sunlight and moisture. These can include a storage box, shelf or desk drawer. It is best to avoid places like a bathroom cabinet because of the moisture from the shower or sink and the kitchen because it can get too hot.

Some medications are required to be placed in the fridge for example, hormones injections used for in vitro fertilisation or insulin vials. Any medications which need to be refrigerated should be stored between 2°C and 8°C. A few medicines are required to be stored in the freezer, an example being vaccine injections.

If you have any doubt about where to store your medications, speak to your pharmacist or doctor.

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