The pharmaceutical industry has come a tremendous way in researching and developing an endless armamentarium of medications that can do everything from easing the symptoms of the common cold to decreasing the risk of developing a potentially fatal cancer. Nevertheless, even the scientists who develop these wonder drugs know that no matter how extraordinary these medications may be, if they are not taken as directed they cannot do what they are meant to do. On the other hand, if they are taken more often than recommended the chance they will do harm rises dramatically.

Many people get confused about their medications. First of all, many medications have long, hard to pronounce names. In addition, the name for the generic equivalent is often listed on the medicine bottle which may add even more confusion. Then you must take into account that one month your pills may be orange and round, while the next month the same medication is all of a sudden green and rectangular. (Different pharmaceutical companies may manufacture the same medications and pharmacies often change which pharmaceutical company they purchase a particular medication from based on which one gives them the best price.) Finally, if you take multiple medications and, God forbid, you get them at different pharmacies, you could truly be headed down a dangerous path.

Each year, countless people are hospitalized, and many even die because of confusion about their medications. Taking too much of a drug can literally be fatal in many instances, while not taking enough may be just as deadly. The following are some guidelines to decrease your risk of adverse medication reactions.

  • Get all of your medication filled at the same pharmacy. Many pharmacies have computers that immediately alert them if an attempt is made to fill a prescription that has a potentially dangerous interaction with another one that person is taking. It is literally impossible for even the most brilliant physicians to keep up with every potential drug interaction know to man. If you have ever seen how thick a PDR (Physicians Desk Reference) is you will understand the incomprehensible amount of information it contains, and new drugs are being developed each day!
  • Write down a list of all of your medications and keep it with you at all times. Do not forget to include the dosage (i.e. 10 mg), the frequency with which you take it (i.e. twice daily), and WHY you take it. Many medications are used for more than one condition and knowing exactly why you are taking the medication can go a long way toward avoiding confusion in the future.
  • Read the information that your pharmacist gives you with each prescription and after you have finished, tuck it away in a safe place in case you need to refer to it in the future. If you have further questions, research your medication yourself online.
  • When you get refills, make sure you do not take them until you finish the pills from the old bottle. This is of paramount importance. Many times patients take a pill from both bottles not knowing they are doubling up on medication. This is especially easy to do if the refilled medication looks different from the original one.
  • If you take a lot of medications and the risk of confusion is high, consider getting a pill case with a different compartment for each day of the week and for different times during the day (i.e. morning, afternoon, and nighttime). Have a relative fill it for you at the beginning of each week.
Author's Bio: 

Dr. Ann Hester is a board certified internal medicine specialist, author, founder of and creator of the Patient Whiz. She can be reached at

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