8 Most Common Mistakes Americans Make With Their Meds

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Taking medication seems like a simple task, but every year thousands of Americans make errors with causing some very serious side effects — some of which can even be life threatening. To avoid becoming one of these statistics, it’s important to know what mistakes to avoid when taking your own medications or assisting loved ones with theirs. Not only will this help you stay healthier, but could also help prevent a major medical crisis.

Whether you work in a medical field or just want to be more careful about maintaining your own health, knowing how and when to take medications properly is an essential part of any regimen.

  1. Improperly storing medications

    Oddly enough, the eponymous cabinet in your bathroom probably isn’t the best place to store your medications. The moisture from a hot bath or shower can damage tablets and make them ineffective. Yet this is where the majority of Americans keep their medications, for obvious reasons. Medications should be kept at room temperature, in a dry place away from direct light — ideally in a kitchen cabinet away from the stove, a bedroom nightstand or a dresser drawer. Failing to properly store medications can make them less effective and less likely to keep you healthy.

  2. Drinking while on certain medications

    Medications and alcohol often don’t mix, but that doesn’t stop some people from having a drink while on them. A 2008 study revealed that over two thirds of people on prescription medications known to interact dangerously with alcohol were also drinking beer, wine or liquor at some point within the past year. One in 20 drank regularly enough to be at high risk for interactions. Drinking while on medication isn’t a joke, and can cause some prescriptions to have reduced effectiveness, dangerous interactions or amplified alcoholic effect. While not all prescription medications preclude users from having a drink or two, a lot of common ones out there do. If you are on any kind of medication, check with your doctor or pharmacist first to see if it’s safe to drink.

  3. Not taking medications on time

    For those taking more than one medication, it can be tough to keep track of when to take each and every pill. Yet ingesting them on time is an essential part of helping them act at peak efficiency. Some medications must be taken a certain number of hours apart, and others should be taken at the same time every day to ensure a constant level in the body. Many Americans, especially older adults, have a tough time remembering their medication schedule. In these cases, tools like pill cases and watch alarms can be a big help. Failing to do so could reduce the effectiveness of a medication or cause some unpleasant side effects.

  4. Taking two or more medications that might interact with one another

    One of the most common and dangerous mistakes people is taking multiple medications without first seeing whether or not the drugs negatively interact with one another. This applies to both OTC and prescription medications, and is something which every individual on any kind must absolutely watch. These interactions can change how medications act in your body, cause them to become less effective or result in some very dangerous (and potentially deadly) side effects. Even vitamins and herbal supplements can interact with other drugs, so it is essential to carefully monitor any and all substance you are mixing, -over-the-counter or otherwise. If in doubt, check with a doctor or a pharmacist and make sure you won’t be creating a dangerous brew in your body.

  1. Not finishing a prescription

    Medications are prescribed at a certain dosage and duration for a reason, usually because of thousands of hours of clinical testing that shows that these are the most effective ways to use them. Yet many Americans disregard doctor’s orders and stop taking a drug before it’s all gone. This may cause an antibiotic, antiviral or other pill to be essentially ineffective in the body. The most common reason they stop taking a prescription is that they begin to feel better and don’t see the point in continuing the treatment. This can be deceptive, and could allow harmful bacteria to resurge in or initial progress in controlling a body process revert — putting you right back where you started in just a few weeks. Unless you have previously discussed it with your doctor or are having very serious side effects, never stop taking a medication until the full run is gone. You might not just wind up sick again, but wasting time and money as well.

  2. Taking reduced doses of pills

    While times are tough and prescription medication costs remain high, cutting back on medication to save money may not be the right choice. In fact, for some types of medication, it could be downright dangerous. A full 27% of Americans admit to not taking their pills as prescribed by their doctor, some without consultation to see whether changes could negatively impact their health. While some daily, long-term medications can be split, many others cannot — especially those with a protective coating or requiring a very specific dosage. Never reduce your dosage without first consulting your doctor. If money is a concern, he or she may be able to switch you to generic drugs or come up with other solutions that are a safer and just as effective.

  3. Unintentionally overdosing on drugs with similar properties

    There are a number of ways a person can unintentionally overdose. Sometimes it can be easy to forget that a generic and a name brand drug are actually the same thing, leading to individuals taking twice the amount. Other times, individuals receive prescriptions for several different problems; but if each essentially performs the same function, the combined effect can be deadly. This can happen with both prescription pills and those bought over the counter, so never mix any drugs without first carefully checking to see if it’s safe. The worst offenders for prescription drugs are narcotic painkillers, sleeping pills and anxiety medications. For the OTC varieties, watch out for mixing antihistamines, cough and cold meds and sleeping pills.

  4. Taking the wrong dosage

    Unfortunately, stories about Americans taking the wrong dosage are all too common, whether the result of pharmacy error or simple mistakes made by those taking the medication. These kinds of oversights are very serious, and could lead to dangerous complications, side effects and (in some cases) death. Before you get any medication, double check the dosage with your doctor. Write down the information and check it against any prescription picked up at the pharmacy. Before taking any medication, carefully read the label and follow instructions to ensure that you’re getting the right amount each day. If you are taking liquids, do not measure with a kitchen spoon, but a measuring one instead, thus keeping all dosages accurate. This will ensure that you don’t take too much or too little.

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