Questions You Should Always Ask About Your Medications

October 8, 2021

When you’re prescribed medication, how often do you ask about the details? Do you understand how it works and what might happen if you don’t take it?

These are key questions that you can and should ask your provider, explains Edward G. Reis, MD, internal medicine specialist and primary care provider with Jefferson Health – New Jersey.

“It’s not uncommon to feel reluctant, whether you’re fearful of being sick or of the side effects, or if you’re simply assuming the doctor knows best,” said Dr. Reis. “You have the power to be part of these decisions. We want you to be engaged in your care plan and overall health.”

A part of this conversation involves sharing a comprehensive list of any medications you may already be taking. In addition to what’s available via electronic records, it’s still wise to have a physical list on hand, notes Dr. Reis. “All you have to do is keep it in your wallet. A list makes it easier for us to identify any discrepancies in prescriptions and verify what you’re actually taking.”

Don’t take medication blindly. Set your expectations and become knowledgeable about your treatment plan. Before leaving your next appointment, consider asking these questions:

1. How does this medicine work/how will it help me? 

It’s important to understand how it’s supposed to help your specific condition, says Dr. Reis. “It’s also an opportunity to learn about the possible side effects. For example, a common blood pressure medication, Amlodipine, can lead to ankle swelling (especially at the end of the day) in some patients. With prior knowledge of this, you’re a lot less likely to panic if it happens.”

2. How long will it take to work?   

Knowing how long it takes for medicine to work can help set reasonable expectations, notes Dr. Reis. “Many psychiatric medications take at least a few weeks to notice a change. If you thought it was supposed to work immediately, you might become frustrated and discouraged and stop taking it before you give it a chance.”

3. How should it be administered/when should I take it?  

Certain medications are meant to be taken at specific times, or with or without food, to help with their absorption rate and effectiveness, explains Dr. Reis. “Once-daily blood pressure medications are best taken first thing in the morning; you wouldn’t want to take them at night, because blood pressure typically falls while asleep anyhow. There are also medications classified as ‘rescue medications,’ such as inhalers, that wouldn’t be needed unless an attack occurs.”

4. How will I feel once I start taking it?  

This is another question that helps determine what is normal and what is concerning. If you’re taking an antihistamine, says Dr. Reis, it’s normal to feel drowsy. Therefore, you may stray from taking it when you’re at work.

Patients should always ask about possible side effects, continues Dr. Reis. “Most side effects are not automatic, but while the incidence is low, they are possible. Still, try not to lose sight of the medicine’s purpose. Compare the risks of taking the medicine to the risks of not taking it. Often, the benefits will far outweigh the risks.”

5. What will happen if I don’t take it?

This question often follows, especially if you think the risks aren’t worth it. There can be detrimental consequences of not taking medications needed to treat a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes, adds Dr. Reis. However, with minor conditions, like seasonal allergies, you may decide your symptoms are tolerable enough to not take anything.

6. What shouldn’t I mix it with?

The most common substance to be avoided/limited is alcohol, as it can cause negative interactions, explains Dr. Reis. “Also, there may be activities to avoid. For example, some medications can impair your concentration, so you should refrain from driving.”

7. Will this medicine conflict with anything else I take?  

“A comprehensive medicine list helps us identify any potential interactions and avoid prescribing anything that would have an undesirable effect. However, supplements and over-the-counter medications can make this tricky. Try to inform your provider of all medications you take, even if they’re not prescriptions,” recommends Dr. Reis.

8. Is this the only option?

Often, there are other options. Asking this shows your provider that you are engaged and interested in putting your best foot forward, adds Dr. Reis. Part of this question may involve whether there’s a more affordable alternative. Sometimes, there are generics or ways to order the prescription that can save money (i.e., 90-day supply).

9. What else can I do in addition to the medication? 

Treating a chronic illness isn’t solely about taking medicine; you should recognize full-body wellness and ask what you can do in terms of lifestyle changes, advises Dr. Reis. “Over time, a healthier lifestyle is likely to reduce the number of medications you need.”

Remember, you have a say in your medical care. Some medications may not fit your expectations or lifestyle, says Dr. Reis, and that’s okay. “If you have concerns, express them. Take that active role in your health.”

For more information on Primary & Specialty Care services offered at Jefferson Health – New Jersey, click HERE or call 844-542-2273.