Do you pay attention to the medications you take? Do you know when to take them, how much to take and other foods or medications with which they may interact? Do you know a medication that is easily obtained over-the-counter can be even more dangerous than one that requires a prescription from your doctor?

Taken correctly, medications may improve your health or even save your life. But if they’re not taken in the proper amounts and at the right time, they can cause serious harm and can even be fatal.

Ibuprofen is a case in point. Taken correctly, ibuprofen may help quench a fever and reduce pain and inflammation. But in the wrong person, or when too much is taken, it can burn a big hole (an ulcer) in the stomach, causing massive bleeding and possible death.

There are medications better taken with food.

Ibuprofen is one of them. Others like doxycycline hyclate (a common antibiotic) are better taken on an empty stomach.

There are medications that can interact with others. What you eat or drink can also affect the medications.

A change in the amount of green leafy vegetables you eat can affect the level of warfarin (Coumadin), a common blood thinner, in your body. The vitamin K in the vegetables works against the warfarin, making it less effective.

Grapefruit and grapefruit juice is another example. They both affect the liver’s ability to handle many types of drugs. This effect can make these drug levels unsafely high in the body to even become deadly.

For instance the cholesterol drug simvastatin (Zocor) was shown to be more than 300% more powerful when taken with a 7-ounce glass of grapefruit juice. There are many more examples that your doctor or pharmacist can share with you. I advise my patients to avoid both grapefruit and grapefruit juice when taking any medication.

Know the Brand Name and Generic Name of Each Medication You Take

Keep in mind that each drug has a generic name. This is a nonproprietary name that is used internationally.
Each drug may also have one or more brand names given to it by the drug company (or companies) that makes it.

For example, in the United States, Motrin and Advil are two different brand names for the generic drug ibuprofen. You can often find all three names on different bottles in a drugstore. You may also find ibuprofen marketed under other lesser-known brand names in the same pharmacy.

As another example, Tylenol, Panadol, Tempra, and Datril are some of the common brand names for the generic drug acetaminophen. To confuse things even further, often the name acetaminophen is not listed on drug bottles. Instead, you might find that APAP, the abbreviation of its original chemical name, para-acetylaminophenol, is used.

As international travel is common nowadays, one should also know that the same acetaminophen is sold in other countries under a different generic name: paracetamol. And each country has its own popular brand names for the same medicine.

Sometimes marketing efforts by the drug companies can confuse the public. It is much more difficult to establish a different name for marketing purposes rather than tagging on to an established brand name.

So Tylenol PM is not just acetaminophen for pain and fever. Marketed for sleep, it has diphenhydramine in addition to acetaminophen. Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine that has drowsiness as one of its major side effects. It also can cause other possible side effects, including dry mouth, constipation, and even confusion.

It is therefore important to take all medications with caution. If you are not sure, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Before You Take Any Medications

Here are some helpful guidelines to follow to ensure you’re taking all medications safely.

• Know what you take, why you take it, and how to take it properly.
• Read and know the active ingredient list on any bottle that you buy over the counter.
• Balance the potential side effects of the medication, including the cost, against the potential benefits of the medication.
• Ask yourself these questions:
• Do I really need to take this particular medication?
• Do the benefits from taking this medication outweigh the potential risks?
• If so, am I taking the smallest dose that works the best for me?
• Can I improve my condition by other means such as a heating pad, icing, exercise, physical therapy, massage, relaxation training, etc. instead of taking medications?
• Consult your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions before taking a medication. Be sure you understand the drug interactions and possible side effects.
• Know the brand and generic names of each medication you take.
• Use caution when searching the medication on the Internet. The best sites to get information from are nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, or government sources.
• Consider over-the-counter drugs, herbal supplements, vitamins, and minerals as medications (they are!.
• Make sure prescribed medications and all other nonprescription drugs, supplements, vitamins, and minerals do not interact in serious ways.
• Keep a list of all the prescribed medications, over-the-counter drugs, supplements, vitamins, and minerals you take. Note the amounts and dosing intervals.
• Use a daily pill organizer (most commonly, a pill box) if you take medications on a regular basis.

Keep reading to discover the keys for defusing ticking health bombs that could be lurking in your body. Go to and discover the medical secrets necessary to know so you can live a better, longer, healthier life.

Author's Bio: 

Zen-Jay Chuang, MD, is a primary care physician and Chairman of the Whole Health Alerts advisory board. Visit to find out how Dr. Zen-Jay’s biodynamic, cutting edge approach to ancient and modern medicine can help you achieve the best health of your life.

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