The more you know about your medications, the less likely you’ll suffer preventable side effects and the more likely you’ll be able to recognize them. Here are five basic strategies for avoiding an adverse reaction to a drug:
1. Discuss possible side effects with your doctor when you’re prescribed a new drug.
2. Ask for specific instructions on the best way to take the drug—with or without food, for example, or whether the prescription drug could interact harmfully with any over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements or alcoholic beverages. Take your medications only as directed.
3. Always keep follow-up appointments. If you’re supposed to return to the doctor regularly for physical exams or blood tests to check your response to the drug, make sure you go. Don’t forget to discuss your test results.
4. Know which drugs you can’t stop taking all at once. Some drugs must be tapered off gradually to prevent withdrawal or “rebound” effects. For example, you may experience a sharp rise in blood pressure if you suddenly stop taking an antihypertensive medication or you could become dangerously depressed if you go several days without your usual antidepressant.
5. Check with your pharmacist. When you go to the pharmacy to pick up a new prescription and the pharmacist asks, “Do you have any questions?” respond by asking, “How safe is this medication and what should I watch out for?”
If you suspect you’re having an adverse reaction to a drug, contact your doctor, who can often recommend a way to make you more comfortable. (If the symptoms are potentially life threatening, call 911.)
Don’t suddenly stop taking your medications if you think you’re having a side effect. Always check with your doctor before changing your drug regimen in any way.
Get personalized drug alerts
If you’d like to learn more about the interactions among the drugs and supplements you take regularly, you can sign up to receive personalized email alerts when important safety information is issued about your medications.
A free, online resource is available from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. Enter your prescription medication, over-the-counter drugs, and supplements.
Medically reviewed by Brent G. Petty, M.D., who is an associate professor of medicine in the division of clinical pharmacology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore.