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Talking with your pharmacist: questions you should ask

The conversation with your pharmacist is a two-way street: both parties should be listening, asking questions, and offering information. The pharmacist should ask you for relevant information about your medical history, tell you about the medication, and answer your questions. You should ask questions, talk about your concerns, and provide any necessary health information to the pharmacist.

You should choose your pharmacist as carefully as you choose your doctor. Find a pharmacist that you are comfortable talking with, and one who takes the time to help you with your medications. To get the most out of your visit to the pharmacist, make sure you ask the following questions:

What is the medication called?

Each medication has two names: the common (also called generic) name and the brand name. The brand name is the name under which a specific manufacturer markets a product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the standard name of the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). The label on your medication will state the brand name, common name, or both. If more than one company makes a medication, its common name will be the same. The brand name will be different for each company. A medication may have different brand names in other countries, but the common name will usually be the same.

What is the medication supposed to do?

Some medications, such as antibiotics, are used to cure an illness. Others, such as pain medications, are used to control symptoms. It’s important to know what to expect from your medication so that you have a realistic idea of what it can do for you.

How should I use the medication?

  • What is the best time of day is best to use the medication? Some medications must be used at exactly the same times every day to be effective. For others, it is OK to use them at approximately the same time each day.
  • Should the medication be taken with food?
  • If the medication is to be taken by mouth, can it be crushed or split?
  • Can I drive a car while taking the medication?

How will I know if the medication is working, and when should I expect it to start working? What do I do if it doesn’t seem to be working?

  • It is important that you know when your medication will start working, and what you can expect it to do. This way, you will be able to monitor to see if it is working, and take action if it is not.

How long will I need to use the medication?

  • Some medications are used for the short term; others, for a lifetime. Knowing how long you will need to stay on a medication can help you prepare yourself for a lifestyle change if necessary.
  • For some medications, such as antibiotics, the whole course of treatment must be completed, even if you feel better after a couple of days.

Are there any activities, foods, or other medications that I should avoid while taking this medication?

  • There are many situations, such as driving, drinking, eating, operating machinery, and exercise, that may be affected by a medication.

What are the side effects of this medication? What should I do if they happen? How can I reduce or cope with the side effects? Which side effects need medical attention?

  • Some side effects are very serious, and require immediate medical attention, while others are milder. It is very important to find out all serious side effects, and have an emergency contact number.
  • Before you decide to stop taking a medication because of side effects, ask your pharmacist whether there is a way to deal with them.

Other questions include:

  • What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • Is this medication safe to take if I am pregnant or breast-feeding?
  • How should I store this medication?
  • Are there any refills on this medication? If so, what do I need to do to get a refill?
  • Is there any written information about this medication that I can take home?
  • Are there other ways to help my condition, such as diet and exercise?

In addition, be sure to tell your pharmacist:

  • any information that you would like to have repeated or explained in more detail
  • any concerns or questions that you may have about the medication
  • any side effects or other problems that you have had with any of your medications
  • any other medications you are taking – this includes herbal medications, homeopathic medications, and other medications you can buy without a prescription
  • any medical conditions you have
  • any allergies that you have (e.g., penicillin allergy)
  • whether you are pregnant, planning a pregnancy, or breast-feeding

If you have decided not to take one of your medications as prescribed, let your pharmacist know. They may be able to help sort out the problems that have caused you to decide not to take your medication.

Also, if your pharmacist thinks that you are taking a medication when you actually aren’t, they may think that the medication is not working, and recommend to your doctor that a higher dose or a different medication should be used. Don’t feel guilty about telling your pharmacist that you haven’t been taking your medications as prescribed – it is their job to help you and not to judge you.

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