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Seven Ways to Safely Manage Your Medications

Category: Patient Stories
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A Woman Looking Over Documents With Her DoctorAndrew Broadmoore, MD, Family Medicine, Denfeld Medical Clinic

With 82 percent of Americans taking at least one medication, and 29 percent taking five or more medications, it's more important than ever to know your medication. "All medications are potentially dangerous, especially if they aren't taken as prescribed," says Andrew Broadmoore, MD, family medicine physician at St. Luke's Denfeld Medical Clinic. According to the Centers for Disease Control Medication Safety Program, 700,000 emergency room visits and 120,000 hospitalizations each year are due to unintended injuries caused by medications.

It's important to safely manage your medications. "Potential medication risks are even greater for seniors and children," says Dr. Broadmoore. "The bodies of children and older people don't process medicine the same way as the average adult. Even an over-the-counter medication can cause harm if it's not taken correctly."

Here are Dr. Broadmoore's seven ways to safely manage your medications:

  1. Keep a list of all your medications—both prescription and over-the-counter
    Even if your clinic uses electronic medical records (EMR), it's good to have your own list. "The EMR printout is a good tool," says Dr. Broadmoore, "but having your own list helps ensure all your medications are current and you know the correct dose of each one."
    Pen and paper are effective and there is also a helpful Medication Tracker you can fill out and print that was created by the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
  2. Take all medications according to your doctor's directions
  3. Ask questions 
    "If you don't understand what your medication is for or how to take it, be sure to ask your doctor," says Dr. Broadmoore.
  4. Bring all of your medications to your appointment
    "Sometimes people continue to take medications after they were supposed to stop," says Dr. Broadmoore. "Some vitamins and supplements can interact with medications. If you bring them in, we can see what you are taking, talk with you about it and avoid a lot of problems."
  5. Tell your doctor about your over-the-counter medications
    "People think because it's over-the-counter, it's not as strong as a prescription medication, but that's not true," says Dr. Broadmoore. "Some over-the-counter medications are very strong, and they can be harmful if not taken correctly."
    Some examples:
    • Tylenol ® (acetaminophen) can relieve mild pain, but if you take too much over a long period of time, it can cause liver failure or death. "Accidental overuse of this drug causes hundreds of deaths per year. The margin between a safe dose and a potentially lethal dose is small. It is also an ingredient in many prescription pain medications and over-the-counter cold medications. It can be easy to take too much if you don't realize that acetaminophen is in one of the medications you're taking," says Dr. Broadmoore.
    • Advil ® or Alleve ® (ibuprofen or naproxen) will not damage your liver but can cause stomach ulcers, high blood pressure or problems with kidney function if taken incorrectly.
  6. Know the correct dose for your age and size
    Children, smaller adults and seniors may require a smaller dosage. The livers and kidneys of seniors do not function the same as the average adult, so they may require a lower dose.
    There are many new recommendations for children and the use of cough and cold medications. Children under the age of four should not use decongestants.
  7. Talk to your pharmacist
    "Your pharmacist is a good resource," says Dr. Broadmoore. "They may notice or flag potential drug interactions, and they can double-check dosage and use instructions. Pharmacists are very knowledgeable about side effects, and they can also educate you in how to take your medication, especially if it's complicated, like insulin for diabetes or inhalers for asthma."