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AARP Bulletin

Timing When to Take Your Daily Medications

Some drugs are best used in the morning, others should be taken in the evening or right before going to bed. Here, advice for 7 common meds

Kate Allen Smith, 69, in her home in Hamden, Connecticut on October 17, 2013, Circadian Rhythms (Melanie Burford/Prime)

At what time of day can you get the most relief from your medication? — Melanie Burford/Prime

Osteoarthritis

The gradual deterioration of cartilage covering bone ends within joints causes pain, tenderness and swelling around the joint. People experience pain at different times of the day.

When to take medicine: NSAIDs, such as naproxen and ibuprofen, are the most widely used medications for osteoarthritis. According to French researchers, it's best to take them four to six hours before the pain is at its worst, so that they'll kick in at the appropriate time. For afternoon pain, for example, take meds around mid-morning to noon; for evening pain, schedule them for midafternoon; and for nighttime pain, take them with your evening meal.

Here's why: Timing NSAIDs so that the highest blood levels of the drug coincide with peak pain will offer the most relief.

Heartburn

This distressing condition is caused by a backup of stomach contents into the esophagus, also called the gullet, where gastric acids produce a burning sensation and discomfort. The stomach produces two to three times more acid between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. than at any other time of day.

When to take medicine: If you have recurring bouts of nighttime heartburn, you may be using an acid-reducing H-2 medication for relief. These drugs have a chemical name that ends in "tidine" (cimetidine, famotidine, ranitidine, nizatidine). Take them 30 minutes before your evening meal.

Here's why: Taking an H-2 blocker before the evening meal controls the secretion of stomach acid both after the meal and during the critical overnight period when secretion reaches its peak, making stomach juices less likely to irritate the esophagus, says Smolensky.

Asthma

Asthma attacks occur 50 to 100 times more often between 4 and 6 a.m. than during the day. Four in 10 people with asthma wake up every night with trouble breathing.

When to take medicine: Take in midafternoon if it's an oral medication, or late afternoon if it's an inhaled steroid.

Here's why: Medications to reduce inflammation and relax airways will take effect when asthma attacks are most likely to strike. For example, a single dose of inhaled steroid in the afternoon helps prevent asthma trouble that night, researchers found. The same dose taken in the morning or at night does not significantly reduce the number of attacks.

Next page:  When should you take your rheumatoid arthritis medication? »

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