If you have questions about your medications, chances are you skip an important source of information: your pharmacist. A pharmacist is a trained medical professional. They go through anywhere from six to eight years of school and learn about pharmaceutical chemistry, the effect of drugs on the body, toxicology, and pharmacy administration. In order to become a pharmacist, they must pass the North American Pharmacist Exam and be licensed (license requirements vary from state to state).
Despite their vast knowledge of medications, they are often an overlooked resource. Many people drop off their prescription and come back in a little while to pick it up. They sign their name and go home, often with questions about side effects or possible interactions with other medications.
Your doctor should be able to explain why he prescribed a certain medication and what effect he hopes to see, such as less anxiety or an infection going away. In other words, your doctor chooses the medication he thinks will best address your symptoms. But your pharmacist can give you valuable information about the medication. Some of the questions you can ask your pharmacist include:
When should I take the medication? Some medications are taken every day and others are taken as needed. Some medications are best taken at night, others in the morning. Some medications should be taken with food, others on an empty stomach. When you take your medication can impact its effectiveness.
What are some of the side effects? Every medication has possible side effects and although your pharmacist can’t possibly know every side effect of every medication, he can look them up and help you understand what the side effects are and which ones might be severe.
How can I manage side effects? Your pharmacist might be able to give you some ideas on managing side effects, such as taking the medication at a different time of day or taking it on a full stomach. He can let you know if there are over-the-counter medications that can help ease the side effects.
What are some possible drug interactions? It is helpful to have all of your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy so your pharmacist can immediately see if there is a potential drug interaction. This is especially important if you have two or more doctors prescribing medications. Beyond prescriptions, though, you should talk to your pharmacist about any supplements you take, as some of these can also cause dangerous interactions or cause a medication to be less effective.
What foods or drinks should I avoid? Some medications are less effective if combined with certain foods. Some medications can cause a dangerous reaction if you drink alcohol. If there are special dietary considerations or if you must avoid alcohol, it is best to know before taking the medication. Your pharmacist can give you specific information on how to make sure your medication is effective.
Is there a generic available? Your doctor might have prescribed a brand-name drug, but there might be a generic version available at a fraction of the price.
Keep your pharmacist apprised of your situation. Let him know if you have experienced any allergic reactions to medications, if you have trouble swallowing or are unable to read the labels. If you have trouble paying for your medication, your pharmacist might know local or national resources that can help. If you are pregnant (or trying to become pregnant) ask your pharmacist if your medication could cause problems with the pregnancy or your baby’s health.
Next time, before you simply sign your name and walk away when picking up your prescription, stop and talk with the pharmacist. The information you gain might improve the effectiveness of your medication, help you better deal with side effects or, in some cases, save your life.
"Resources for You - Publication CDER 08-1930," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.