Six Things You Need to Know to Avoid Medication Mishaps

Sep. 19, 2018

Michael A. Hoffmann, MD, UC Health internal medicine specialist, shares the things you need to know when it comes to taking medication.

6 Mistakes to Avoid When Taking Medication

Have you ever considered altering the dosage on a medication to save money or to limit side effects, without speaking to your doctor or pharmacist? Doing so is a dangerous practice and can result in serious side effects and health consequences. Dr. Hoffmann offers tips for properly and safely managing your prescription medications.

1. Always talk with your doctor and your pharmacist to understand your medications.

Just as it is important to understand the health problems that you are facing, it is equally important to understand the treatment of these problems. If medications are not used properly, they may not help at all or may even lead to additional harm. For example, decreasing the dosage of a blood pressure-lowering medication has been associated with heart attack and stroke. When taken in higher doses, blood pressure medication can reduce blood pressure excessively and lead to dizziness and fainting.

2. Never alter a dosage without first consulting your doctor or pharmacist.

When we do not follow dosage directions, bad things can and do happen. For example, if insulin dosage is increased without the guidance of a nurse, pharmacist or physician, dangerously low blood glucose levels can develop which can lead to passing out, the precipitation of a heart attack or even death. If insulin doses are reduced without proper guidance or understanding, blood glucose levels can remain elevated and lead to confusion, dehydration, infection or damage the organs in the body.

3. Be aware of side effects when taking multiple medications.

It is now more common for people to be taking multiple medications. Avoiding side effects and ensuring that all medications mesh well together is extremely important. Further, people are often under the care of many providers from many different specialties, and sometimes from different health systems/organizations. The best way that you can avoid problems with complex medication regimens is to make sure that all medications are listed accurately in your medical record, and reviewed and discussed at each doctor’s visit. If any change is made during the visit, be sure to understand why the change was made, and that the change is reflected correctly on your medication list at the conclusion of the visit.

4. Be keenly aware of overmedication.

If your health has not changed and you have a growing list of medications (especially if you have no idea what these medications are for) you may be overmedicated. If you are lethargic, do not feel as mentally sharp as you normally do and feel worse than you did before the medication was prescribed, you may be overmedicated. A well-balanced diet, restrictions on caloric intake, and regular physical exercise can easily replace a lot of the herbals, supplements and even prescription medications taken today.

5. Keep notes about how you are feeling while on certain medications.

If you detect a significant change in how you are feeling, such as confusion, dizziness, fatigue and weakness – soon after starting a medication or a change to your regimen – you may be experiencing a side effect. A new rash, welts, shortness of breath or lip swelling that appear after starting a new medication may signal an adverse reaction to the medication. Should your symptoms be severe, schedule an evaluation with your primary physician or within an urgent care setting or emergency department.

6.  Always proactively monitor your medications.

Medications are intended to have a positive effect on your health. The necessity and effect of each medication should be discussed at every visit with the prescribing doctor or other provider. If your health is not improving, or the medication is not having the intended effect, it may not be necessary.