June 26, 2017

Tips for getting the most benefit from your medicines

Jamie Chan, executive director of Pharmacy Quality and Medication Safety at Kaiser Permanente, provides answers to frequently asked questions.

You pick up your prescriptions and then just follow the directions on the label, right? It’s not always so simple. Patients cut pills in half, take vitamins that could interfere with a medication’s effectiveness, or may not understand common directions like “take twice a day.”

Is it necessary to take the full course of medications if the symptoms are gone?

It is extremely important to take medication as prescribed by your doctor. Lack of symptoms does not necessarily mean your condition is fully treated. For example, when a full course of antibiotics is not completed, resistance to the bacteria can develop or the infection can recur.

Is it ever OK to take half a dose?

Generally, this is not recommended.

Taking your medications as prescribed, including taking the right dose, is important. Not taking your medicine as prescribed or instructed by a pharmacist could lead to unwanted consequences, such as the disease getting worse or hospitalization.

There are times when it may be acceptable to adjust the dose, but we recommend you talk to your doctor first.

Is it OK to grind up a pill, open a capsule, or cut a medication in half?

It depends on the medication. Some capsules may be opened and the contents mixed with a liquid or sprinkled on foods such as applesauce or pudding. When taken this way, it is best not to crush or chew the medication.

Some tablets may be broken in half without affecting the medication, while others should never be taken this way. Most “extended release” or “delayed release” medications, or medications with special coatings should be taken whole.

Always check with your pharmacist to make sure the way you take them is safe and effective.

When the directions say "twice a day" or "three times a day," what does that mean?

In general, “twice daily” or “three times daily” dosing means every 12 hours or every 8 hours usually while you’re awake. It is recommended to take the drug at consistent times. For example, for drugs with a “twice daily” direction, the drug could be taken at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., unless otherwise directed.

Should probiotics be taken when taking antibiotics to help with stomach issues?

Probiotics may be helpful in alleviating bloating and diarrhea when patients are taking some antibiotics. Probiotic foods, such as kefir, and over-the-counter medications can replace normal gut bacteria that are killed or disrupted by antibiotic therapy. Probiotics can be taken starting the first day of oral antibiotic treatment and continued for two weeks after the completing it. It may be advisable to take probiotics and antibiotics at least two hours apart to reduce the possibility of the antibiotic killing the probiotic organism immediately.

If I vomit right away after taking the medication, should I take another dose or wait until the next dose is due?

If you vomit within 15 minutes after taking your medication, check if you’ve vomited the medication.  You may take another dose if you vomited right away; however, it may be best to check with your pharmacist or physician because some medications may require a more careful decision on how to respond.

Do vitamins and herbs interact negatively with certain medications?

Some vitamins and herbs can interact with certain medications, which may change how the medication works and/or can cause dangerous side effects. It is always recommended to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before using any vitamins and herbs.

Are there certain foods that interact negatively with medication?

What you eat can affect the way that some medicines work, or cause new or worsening side effects. For example, eating green leafy vegetables while taking Warfarin, a blood thinner, may result in Warfarin being less effective.

Is it necessary to avoid alcohol while taking certain medication?

Yes. Alcohol has harmful interactions with some prescription medications and over-the counter medications. Alcohol interactions with medications may cause problems such as nausea, vomiting, headaches, fainting or changes in blood pressure. In some cases, alcohol interactions may decrease the effectiveness of the medication, or may make drugs harmful or even toxic to the body. Mixing alcohol and various medications also may increase the risk of complications, such as liver damage and heart problems.

Is there any significant difference between the generic version over the brand name?

No, there are no significant differences in how generic drugs and brand drugs work. The Food and Drug Administration tests and approves all medicines sold in the United States to make sure they work well and are safe for consumers. The FDA requires that generic medicines work the same way as the brand-name drug. Taking a generic version usually offers a lower cost alternative to the brand-name drug.