Health-Amanda Daniels

Amanda Daniels, R.N. WMC

With the rise of chronic illness and obesity, we have seen a surge in the number of prescription medications that are being prescribed. There are more than 140,000 different prescription drug types available and countless more over-the-counter medications and supplements widely available and easily accessible. 

The more medications we take on a daily basis, the greater risk we have of experiencing adverse—and potentially lethal—reactions. The average adult with one chronic illness takes up to five prescription drugs per day. You can help prevent the occurrence of dangerous side effects by maintaining an accurate list of all medications and understanding what you are taking and why.

Keep an accurate list

There are many different ways to keep a list. With modern technology many people have taken to keeping a spreadsheet or using a smartphone app, but an old-fashioned list on paper is just as good as anything. At Williamson Medical Center, we provide a card that easily folds and fits inside a wallet or purse. The key to the list is to keep it up to date. 

Be sure to include over-the-counter medications on your list because even over-the-counter drugs can interfere with prescribed medications. Other common items to include are vitamins, supplements, creams, patches, lotions, ear drops and eye drops. 

When writing out a list of home medications, be accurate and thorough. Your health care providers will need the name of the medication (spelled correctly), the prescribed dose or the over-the-counter instructions, how you take it (i.e., by mouth), time of day you take it, and any other pertinent information. Taking a complete list to all doctor visits and hospital stays is the best way to communicate. 

Understand your meds

Keeping up with medications can be confusing. Some drugs are a combination of two different medications, which can make the drug information even more difficult to understand. However, knowing what is prescribed and why you are taking it is crucial for your safety. It’s important to know the following information for each of your meds:

What is the drug used for? Some drugs have multiple uses. Understanding what the doctor has prescribed this medication for will help explain what results can be expected.

How and when should the drug be taken? If you do not understand the directions written on the prescription, ask the doctor, pharmacist, or nurse to help explain. Taking the drug the wrong way or at the wrong time can be dangerous. 

What if a dose is missed? Assuming it is OK to double-up on a dose or skip a dose of medication can also be dangerous. Some drugs work best when kept at a consistent therapeutic level and having too much or too little can cause harm. 

What are the side effects and what could interact with this drug? Almost every drug has side effects. Understanding which side effects require medical attention is imperative. By having your complete, up-to-date medication list with you at all times, your pharmacist, doctor, or nurse can accurately check for negative interactions between drugs that have been prescribed to you and any over-the-counter drugs or supplements you’re currently taking. 

How should the drug be stored? Some drugs should be kept refrigerated, while others react to light or heat. Check with the pharmacy or read the label to ensure you are storing your medications in the right place for the best effects and results.

Are there any lab tests that need to be checked with this drug? Sometimes doctors order lab tests to make sure the medication is working properly and safely for certain patients. For example, patients who take blood thinners are often asked to have blood drawn to make sure their bleeding time is just right. The doctor wants the drug to thin the blood in order to prevent blood clots, but not thin the blood so much that it causes significant bleeding. Following up with testing when appropriate will keep the patient safe and ensure that the medication is working correctly. 

The quality of health care increases when patients take an active role in knowing and understanding their medications. No matter how you decide to keep up with the information, maintaining an accurate and thorough list of ALL medications and supplements that you take could save your life. 

For more information on this and other topics, visit our blog by going to and clicking on the HealthyU icon. 

Amanda Daniel, R.N., is Clinical Coordinator for the Joint and Spine Center and Fourth Floor Nursing at Williamson Medical Center. 

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