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The importance of understanding your medications

Last Modified: April 08, 2017

Family Medicine


When you take a prescription, do you know exactly what you’re taking and why? Brenda Armentrout, PharmD, Pharmacy Director, Parkview LaGrange Hospital, discusses the importance of understanding the drugs we’re putting into our bodies, and how being informed about our medications helps us safeguard our health.

Medication plays an important role in managing disease, but it can also be quite harmful if taken incorrectly. It’s not enough to know that you take a blue capsule and a yellow tablet twice a day. You need to know the names of your prescriptions, and understand the important details about how they work. For example, some medicines may interact badly with certain foods, other medications, or even food supplements, and can make you very ill. Take the time to learn about the treatment prescribed for you. Your physician or your pharmacist can help answer these questions — don’t hesitate to ask!

  • What is the name of the medicine?
  • Why do I need to take it?
  • When and how should I take it? With water? With food? On an empty stomach?
  • How much should I take? What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • What side effects could be caused by the medication? Which ones should I call the doctor about?
  • Are there any foods or medicines I should avoid while taking this medicine?
  • Will this medication change how my other medicines work? 

In addition to asking your physician or pharmacist to help you understand your prescriptions, take these steps to further ensure your safety.

  • Always fill your prescriptions at the same pharmacy. That way, your medicine history is on file in one place.
  • Pick up a fact sheet about your medication from your pharmacist.
  • Keep a list in your wallet or purse of all the prescription and over-the-counter medicines you take. Be sure to include vitamins, health supplements, and herbal remedies. Update the list whenever there are changes in your routine. Note the name of each item, the dosage, why and when you need to take it.
  • Tell your physician and pharmacist if you have any medical conditions or allergies to any medication or food, or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. 

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