When you’re collecting your prescription and the pharmacist asks if you have any questions for them…
Well, do you?
A fellow blogger (go show her some love here) left a particularly insightful comment on one of my blog posts, saying that she often finds herself stumped and unsure of what questions she SHOULD ask her pharmacist. Sometimes, she doesn’t even get the invitation to ask questions. This is a shame, because nobody wins when you’re unsure about your medication and the pharmacist is none the wiser – they should be the most clued in on how you are getting on with your treatment. The next time you step into a pharmacy to collect your prescription, here are a few questions you can ask your pharmacist.
How does this medicine help my condition?
It can be surprising how many people will take a medicine because they’re told to take it, and have no idea what it’s for. Ask your pharmacist to explain how your medicine helps you deal with your condition. If nothing else, you are now a little more knowledgeable on how that little tablet actually helps in your day-to-day life, and you might be more motivated to take it diligently.
How should I take it? How shouldn’t I take it?
Do you swallow the tablet whole? Can you crush it and dissolve it in water? Formulations are designed in a very specific way to optimise the effects of every dose you receive – whether it’s a tablet, capsule, inhaler, or patch you’re using. Some opioid patches for pain can be cut in half, but some shouldn’t be cut at all (eg. Fentalis reservoir patches). Reservoir patches are designed to release the drug at a controlled rate using a membrane specially designed for this purpose. Cutting this membrane means that the whole drug dose can be released all at once and you risk an overdose.
Is anything in my diet going to interact with this medicine?
If you are on warfarin, you may have been told to avoid any sudden changes in your intake of vitamin K rich foods, like spinach and kale. Sometimes, food/drink can interact with a drug, ie. interfere with its action. Warfarin “thins” your blood by stopping your body from making certain clotting factors, that help blood clot. The production of these clotting factors relies on vitamin K, and warfarin interferes with this process by stopping vitamin K activation in your body. So, less activated vitamin K = fewer clotting factors made = less clotting. Ask your pharmacist if there is any food or drink you should avoid. Makes meal prep and going out to eat a whole lot easier too.
What alternatives are there if this medicine doesn’t work?
Sometimes, a medicine prescribed for you is not the only option. It isn’t the end of the world if it doesn’t work for you. Always tell your pharmacist if you don’t feel quite right on it, and ask questions about what to do if it doesn’t seem to be helping. Make them aware of your concerns, and they can work with your doctor to do something about it.
What should I do if I forget to take a dose?
This happens to the best of us. I’ll be honest with you – pharmacists know to expect patients to forget a dose every so often. Contraceptives are a big one here – cue the panic that ensues when you realise you somehow have an extra pill you forgot to take this month. No matter how perfect your medicine-taking routine might be, ask your pharmacist what you should do in the event that you DO forget. Do you double up? Or do you just skip this dose and take the next one as scheduled? A quick note on the contraceptives – if you find yourself forgetting a little too often, it may be worth exploring other long-acting options that are designed to get around this.
Is there a reason I have to take this medicine at a specific time during the day?
In my experience, I’ve been taught to generally advise a patient on diuretics to take them in the morning, rather than when they go to bed at night. A diuretic helps you get rid of excess fluid in the body – they tend to be used in conditions like heart failure and high blood pressure to relieve the burden on your heart. If you take a diuretic just before you go to bed, you’re likely to be up all night needing to pee pretty often.
What side effects can I expect and how do I manage them?
Side effects can be a nuisance. They can be so bad that you stop taking your medicine altogether. This isn’t helpful – your condition goes unmanaged and may deteriorate for the sake of something that could have been easily dealt with. Sometimes, side effects are only temporary and there are easy ways to manage them. Talk to your pharmacist, they may be able to give you some advice on the options available to you.
How long do I have to take this medicine?
We all know that we should finish our course of antibiotics even if we feel better. Some medicines are designed to be taken for life, and some aren’t. Make sure you are clear on how long you should be taking your medicine, so that you don’t risk any harm by taking too much or taking too little.
How should I stop taking this medicine?
Stopping a treatment can be just as important as starting. Sometimes, you carry on taking a medicine until you are told to stop, and then you stop. Just like that. But others require a reducing regime – steroids are a common one. Stopping oral steroids suddenly can be dangerous, especially if you have been taking them for 2-3 weeks or more. Stopping suddenly can put you at risk of adrenal insufficiency, where your body can’t cope with the sudden withdrawal because it was so used to the regular supply of steroid hormones it was getting when you were taking your oral steroids.
Will my herbal remedy cause problems with this medicine?
Just because something is”herbal” doesn’t mean it is safe. Asking about herbal remedies and supplements is an important question for clinicians to ask when taking a patient’s drug history for this reason – some herbal remedies are known to interact with drugs. For example, St. John’s Wort is often taken for depression, but it interacts with a whole host of drugs, eg. warfarin, theophylline, digoxin and countless others. Before you decide to start a new supplement, tell your pharmacist about the prescription medication you already take and check that they are safe to take alongside each other.
What do you like most about your job?
Like most people, most pharmacists most likely love talking about themselves, but don’t get many opportunities to do that at work. Make their day and ask them questions about the profession. Ask them what they love most about their job, and maybe gain a little insight into their day-to-day lives!
Disclaimer: All images used in this post were obtained from Pixabay and edited on Canva for thenellybean.