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Managing your medication: 5 questions to ask before you pop a pill

A man taps out a pill from a medicine bottle as he sits at a dining room table

We explore how to manage your medication effectively

A man taps out a pill from a medicine bottle as he sits at a dining room table

We all want to keep our health in tip-top condition and there are plenty of habits and changes we can make every day to achieve it. But it’s a fact of life that we’ll occasionally experience physical and mental dips.

And, sometimes the best way to get back to health is in the form of oral medicines.

This can be prescription medication, supplements or vitamins; all have the ability to help us feel better. And, all have the ability to alter our body in both positive and negative ways, depending on how we approach them.

By asking yourself and your health practitioner the right questions, medication can be a really effective way of getting you back on your feet.

Related: What’s the difference between branded and generic medications?

How do I take my medication?

When your health practitioner prescribes pills, they’ll usually indicate how you should take them. However, you’ll also find this information on the prescription and on the medicine’s packaging.

There are two common directions for consuming your oral medication: with or immediately after a meal or on an empty stomach. Although it requires a little bit more organisation and memory, it’s important to have something in your stomach when the directions indicate it. Possible side-effects of taking medications and vitamins on an empty stomach include indigestion, stomach inflammation and ulcers.

Conversely, if directions indicate taking it on an empty stomach, it’s to ensure your medication will work to its full capacity. Food and drinks can prevent the absorption of active ingredients into the body, making them less effective or not effective at all.

Check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist for storage instructions specific to your medication.

How do I store my medication?

The best place to store your specific pills will be written on the package, however there are also some common rules to follow when it comes to storage. Generally, heat, air, light and moisture will have an adverse effect on your medicine, even damaging it beyond use. Storing in areas that contain these elements might mean you need to rebuy, so try to avoid keeping them on windowsills, in bathrooms or in your car.

Usually, keeping your medication in a cool, dry area like a pantry or cupboard away from the oven is best (unless indicated otherwise, some may need to be refrigerated).

Be sure to check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist for storage instructions specific to your medication.

What does my doctor need to know when it comes to medication?

When you visit your GP for the first time, you’ll have filled out a form indicating your health history and any genetic legacies that could pop up. Then, as you visit, all of your information is recorded in their system. This is all done for your convenience and to assist the doctor in understanding your condition in a holistic way. However, it’s best to not rest on your laurels when it comes to being prescribed medicines or beginning a new vitamin.

Your doctor needs to not only know important health history information; they also need to know:

  • Are you taking any other vitamins or medication (including mixing vitamins and prescription medications)?

  • Do you have any pre-existing conditions they aren’t aware of?

  • Are you pregnant or trying to fall pregnant?

  • Have you developed any reactions or allergies?

  • Have you previously experienced side-effects on medication?

  • (If applicable) They may also ask a few questions about your current mental health.

How does this medication affect me?

Speak with your doctor about the possible side-effects (including how common these side-effects are). Ask exactly how the medication affects your body and how quickly you can expect it to work.

It’s all about understanding what the medication is and whether the side-effects outweigh the benefits. If you feel uncomfortable with your medication, speak up and discuss alternatives with your doctor. Once you understand the side-effects and decide to continue with your medication, you’ll be better equipped to notice any new feelings, thoughts or physical changes that may occur while you’re on the medications.

How can I limit side-effects from medicine?

For some medications and vitamins, there are ways to minimise or eliminate the risk of side-effects. There are some foods, drinks and lifestyle adjustments you can make that might help, particularly for things like nausea, light-headedness or increased/decreased appetite.

The main way to limit your risk of side-effects is to follow the dosage and storage instructions, discuss your allergies with your doctor (being transparent about other medications) and be sure to never take medication prescribed to someone else.

At nib, we’re passionate about keeping you as healthy as possible, which is why we offer a number of programs and benefits to eligible members. Find out more with our article Is this your year to get healthy? Here's how nib can help.

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