What You Need to Know About Your Medications

Before taking any medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist about how, when and where to take your medications. Ask about side effects, allergic reactions and other potential risks regarding your prescribed medications.

The information provided below is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Please speak to your doctor before using any form of medication - prescription or nonprescription drugs.


WHN TIP:Track Your Medications

Keep track of your medications with our Medical Appointment Tracking Form (pdf). Fill out the form and be sure to bring it with you to your appointments and the pharmacy.

WHN TIP:Insurance Coverage

Not sure what prescriptions are covered under your insurance plan? Head to your insurance company's web site and print out the complete list of medications covered under your prescription plan. This will save time and money! --Jennifer Walker, RN

Questions to Ask

When picking up a new medication or an over-the-counter drug, it is important to understand the proper way to take the medication and also to understand what the medication will do for you. Also, at each pharmacy visit be sure to tell the pharmacist if you have had any problems with any of your medicines.

It might be helpful to bring a notebook along to jot down the pharmacist’s advice as well as any questions you may have regarding your medications, insurance and overall health. Write down the pharmacist’s instructions, like “take twice a day” or “take with water but not with food.” These also might be on the label of your prescription.

Below are two “starter lists” of questions you may want to ask your pharmacist when you are picking up a prescription or even an over-the-counter medication. Remember to add your own personal questions to the list.

Prescription Drugs

  1. What is the name of the medication, and what is it supposed to do?
  2. WHN TIP: Know Your Medication Labels

    Read the label of the medication. Ask the pharmacist to explain the terms and information you don’t understand.

  3. When and how do I take it?
    • Should I take this medication on an empty stomach or with food?
    • How often should I take it?
    • Do I take it at the same time every day?
    • How long should I take it?
  4. Does this medication contain anything that can cause an allergic reaction?
  5. WHN TIP:

    Share your list of all medications with your pharmacist and your doctor. Be sure to include over-the-counter drugs and herbal remedies.

  6. Should I avoid alcohol, any other medications, foods, and/or activities?
  7. What are the common side effects? (If you think you may be experiencing side effects, contact your doctor or pharmacist.)
  8. What are the dangerous side effects and what should I do if that happens?
  9. What if I forget to take my medication?
  10. How should I store my medications?
  11. Is it safe to become pregnant or to breastfeed while taking this medication?
  12. For children: Is it OK to cut pills in half or crush them to mix into foods?
  13. Will my insurance cover my medications?
  14. Is there a generic version of the medication my doctor has prescribed? (Generic medicines are usually less expensive than their brand name counterparts.)
  15. Do you offer any special services - chronic disease management (diabetes, asthma, etc.), consultations, home delivery, etc.?
  16. How many days in advance should I order my refills?
  17. Do you have any additional advice or information – pamphlets, brochures, etc. – available regarding my medications?

Nonprescription or Over-The-Counter Medications

Even though medicines like cough syrup, allergy medications or even ibuprofen do not require a doctor's written prescription, they are still very powerful and may affect other medications.

  1. Are my symptoms too serious for a nonprescription drug?
  2. Will this prevent or relieve my symptoms?
  3. What's the difference between the store brand and the name brand of an over-the-counter allergy medicine?
  4. Are there specific side effects with this drug?
  5. What are the dangerous side effects and what should I do if that happens?
  6. Will it affect my daily activities (drowiness, insomnia, appetite, etc.)?
  7. What kinds of other medications should I not take?
  8. Is it important when I take the medication?
  9. Should I take this medication on an empty stomach or with food?
  10. How often should I take it?
  11. Do I take it at the same time every day?
  12. How long should I take it?
  13. For children: Is it OK to cut pills in half or crush them to mix into foods?
  14. Ask any other questions or mention concerns you may have regarding the over-the-counter product.

Taking Medications

The information provided below is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Again, please speak to your doctor before using any form of medication - prescription or nonprescription drugs.

  1. Learn as much as you can about your medicines. Make sure you know what your medication is supposed to do. Is it to eliminate the illness or to help cope with the symptoms? What are the possible side effects? Do you have to take it even if you start feeling better?
  2. Read the label. Ask the pharmacist if you think what you've been given is not what the doctor prescribed, or the incorrect amount or dosage.
  3. Take note of any warnings on the labels, such as taking medications before or after eating, or whether it's safe to drive.
  4. Do not store medications in your bathroom or even your medicine cabinet. The moisture in a bathroom can cause the medications to lose their effect. It's best to keep medicines in a hall closet or on a high shelf in the kitchen.
  5. Remember to keep prescription and nonprescription medications out of the reach of children.
  6. Keep medications in their original childproof containers so you will have the label, instructions, expiration date and information for ordering a refill, if needed.
  7. WHN TIP: Traveling and Your Medications

    If you are traveling, it is very important to keep your medications labeled and in their appropriate containers. This helps with airport security.

  8. Never take prescriptions that are prescribed for another person.
  9. Never take medicines in the dark. You may accidentally take the wrong medication or the wrong amount.
  10. Take all of the medicine as prescribed; don't stop taking it once you start feeling better.
  11. Do not take more or less than the recommended dosage without consulting the prescribing physician or pharmacist.
  12. Check for an expiration date on the label or container. Do not take outdated or unlabeled medicines. Throw them away.
  13. If you think you are having a side effect and don't know what to do, call your doctor or pharmacist. You also need to tell them if you have done anything to try to treat it — such as skipping a dose, stopping the medicine, or taking an over-the-counter or herbal remedy. This information is important for them to include in both your medical and pharmacy records.
  14. The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice. These tips are from doctors, nurses and people who have shared their real life advice; always check with a doctor or other appropriate medical professional you trust before making any healthcare changes. Again, speak to your doctor before using any form of medication - prescription or nonprescription drugs.

    Updated: 5/2009