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5 Tips to Manage Your Medications

How to keep track of your prescriptions, vitamins and supplements

We can all be wise medication managers. Use the following tips to stay organized, and remember to communicate regularly with your doctor and pharmacist.

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1. Remember to take your medicines.

Research shows that we change our behavior in stages. First, we consider a new behavior, then we get ready to begin it, next we take action and finally we keep up the habit. If you stop anywhere along this path, don't worry! Go back to a previous stage.

Here are some strategies for remembering to take a new medication:

  • Use lists, calendars and pillboxes, or write notes to yourself.
  • Make a mental picture of yourself taking the medicine.
  • Connect a specific action or daily event, such as meal-time, with taking your medication.
Close-up of pills with a pill box

Pillboxes, notes and lists are helpful tools for managing your meds. — Samir Begovic/Purestock/SuperStock/Corbis

2. Take your meds exactly as instructed.

If you don't understand an instruction, get clear direction from your doctor or pharmacist. Missing doses or taking medications with certain food and drink can reduce the effectiveness of your medication and can be dangerous. Be sure to tell your health care professional about all of the medications, vitamins and supplements that you’re taking. Together you can make medication adjustments that are best for your health and safety.

3. Monitor how your drugs are working.

Pay attention to how you feel while taking your medication. If you notice any changes, write them down and remember to tell your doctor or pharmacist. Notify your doctor immediately if you have any problems of concerns with your medicines or if you can't stick to your medication plan because of cost, side effects, or other reasons.

If you are on a blood thinner or a drug for a specific condition such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, you may need to undergo blood or other monitoring tests to gauge how your medication is working. If you see more than one doctor, be sure to let each one know the result of each monitoring test that you take. Write down and remember the numbers from your test, such as your INR (International Normalized Ratio), blood pressure or cholesterol numbers.

Next: How to store your meds safely. >>

4. Beware of side effects and how drugs may affect your ability to drive.

The more medicine we take, the more we may experience harmful side effects or interactions between or among drugs. Medications can also interact with what we eat or drink. For example, many drugs, even over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements, can interact dangerously with alcohol. Even a small amount of beer, wine, or liquor can affect how a drug works.

If you take a drug that makes you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or woozy, you should adjust or limit your driving to stay safe. In fact, you shouldn't drive until you know what affects your new medication has on your body.

Avoid dangerous drug interactions or side effects:

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review all the medicines you take.
  • Follow directions for how to take prescription and over-the-counter pills.
  • Read all warning labels on your medicines.

5. Store your medications safely. Dispose of them safely too.

The bathroom "medicine cabinet" is the worst place to store your medicines, despite its popular name. Temperature changes and dampness can affect your drugs' chemical composition, so instead of the bathroom, store medicine in a dark, cool, dry place, such as a kitchen cabinet. Refrigerate drugs only when the label tells you to.

If your medicine has passed its expiration date, crumbles, changes color or smells, dispose of it. Unused drugs can be an environmental health hazard, so don’t flush them down the toilet or pour them down the sink.

When discarding unused medications, protect children and pets from potentially negative effects by following these steps:

  • Take your medicines to a community drug disposal, solid waste or pharmaceutical take-back program.
  • Another safe option is to put your expired medicine into a sealable plastic bag. Crush or add water to dissolve solid meds. Add coffee grounds or kitty litter — something that can mix with the medicine that will make it less appealing for pets and children. Seal the plastic bag and dispose of it in the trash.

Be sure to remove and destroy all the information on your prescription label from the containers before recycling them or throwing them away.

You may also like: Your A-to-Z guide to vitamins. >>

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