Medication mistakes you’re probably making

The whole point of taking prescription medication is to help you get better. While some medication errors can be harmless, some common mistakes people make while taking prescription drugs can have adverse reactions – and even death. A 2013 American study found that adults over 40 with chronic conditions scored a C+ when it came to taking their medications properly - with one in seven of these people were given grade F. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), medication errors cause at least one death every day and injure 1.3 million people annually.

While there are no corresponding studies and statistics for Kenya, we can safely assume that our situation is worse. This is due to challenges in our healthcare system such as language barrier, low literacy levels of patients, and poor access to qualified healthcare professionals.

Here are some of the most common medication mistakes you should avoid:

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Not getting clear instructions

Most errors with medication can be avoided by listening to the doctor and the pharmacist’s instructions. Don’t be shy about asking your doctor what each medication is for and how it works. Then ask if there are any contraindications for prescribed drugs.

Similarly, have a chat with the pharmacist and ask them any questions you have about the medication. What does it treat? Does it have side effects you should know about? Can you drink alcohol when still taking the drugs? Can you take it when pregnant or while breastfeeding? How does it interact with other drugs/supplements you’re taking?

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If you have been on the medication for a while and have noticed unexplained changes (such as a rash or nausea) it’s also advisable to ask the doctor or pharmacist if the drug is to blame. If so, you can request a change in prescription.

Not finishing the dose

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Taking medication is not pleasant. This explains why many people ditch their medication as soon as they feel better. But doctors recommend you should always finish the full dose of your medications through the prescribed number of days.

Even if your symptoms seem to have cleared up, it doesn’t mean you’re completely healed. The dose strength and duration is usually determined through scientific experiments. For instance, it takes certain duration of exposure to a specific dose of an anti-biotic or antiviral drug to totally eliminate the pathogen.

Therefore, if you don’t take the full dose, some pathogens can survive and multiply, causing the infection to recur. Additionally, not taking the full dose can also cause the virus or bacteria to develop resistance to the drug, making the infection even harder to treat.

Skipping doses

Do you forget to take your medication as prescribed? You are not the only one. Statistics show that 80 per cent of patients occasionally miss a dose of their medication. For most medication, this might not be a big problem.

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However, there are times when missing a dose can have serious repercussions. For example, skipping medication to control seizures or to manage clotting can affect the effectiveness of the drug and cause potentially dangerous results.

On the chance you don’t take your drugs when supposed to, what should you do? Doctors recommend that you take the next dose at the normal time and in the normal amount. Don’t any more than the doctor has prescribed.

If you experience any effects from skipping a dose, consult your doctor to assess the best course of action.

Mixing drugs with certain foods and drinks

What you eat or drink matters when you are on medication. There are certain foods which can affect the way a drug is absorbed and extend or rate it is absorbed into your bloodstream.

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For example, there are some drugs which shouldn’t be taken with calcium-rich foods. This is because the calcium can interfere with how the drug is absorbed in your body. This is why doctors recommend that you avoid milk and yogurt when taking drugs such as tetracycline, doxycycline, and ciprofloxacin.

One of the foods to watch out for when on medication is grapefruit and grapefruit juice. Apparently, grapefruit interferes with proteins in the small intestines and liver that normally break down medications. If you combine grapefruit and medication, you might have higher levels of the medication in your bloodstream. This can lead to more side effects. However, a 2013 review of different studies didn’t show if there were significant adverse effects from grapefruit-medication interaction.

Drinking while on medication is also a no-no. Alcohol can affect the way your body metabolises drugs. This can lead to more side effects such as nausea, vomiting, sedation, unconsciousness and even death.

Check with your doctor regarding which foods to avoid when taking any medication.

Taking other people’s medication

Your sister had the symptoms you have. Therefore, it makes sense to just share the medication they were prescribed, right? Wrong.

This is a dangerous mistake. Firstly, even if you are exhibiting similar symptoms, this doesn’t necessarily mean you are suffering from the same illness.

Secondly, medication is usually prescribed to suit the specific patient. The doctor takes into account factors such as age, gender, weight, medical history and so on. Therefore, taking someone else’s “left over” meds can delay your seeing the doctor for a proper diagnosis and prescription.

Poor storage of medication

Other than “keep out of children’s reach”, there are other rules to remember when it comes to storing your drugs.

If you keep all your medication in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, that has to change. Fluctuating temperatures and humidity levels in the bathroom can degrade your medications. The best way to store most medications is in a dry, dark place which is neither too hot nor too cold. Certain drugs such as insulin might also need to be refrigerated.

Poor disposal of prescription drugs

What do you do with medications that you no longer need? You could ask your local pharmacist if they can buy them back from you. You could also donate them to other patients with similar prescription. Prescription drugs can be very expensive, so don’t throw them away if they aren’t expired.

When it comes to throwing away expired medication, put it in a plastic bag with spoiled food – this will discourage children from eating them. Don’t flush medication down the toilet or sink. Some kinds of medications can be harmful to the environment.

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