Basic instructions everyone should know about using medicines

Taking medicine

Medicine is any substance that is taken to relieve pain or cure an illness. Manufacturer of drugs normally writes instructions on the use of the medicines on the packaging or on a separate sheet of paper.

Doctors also give similar instructions to their patients on the use of the medicines they prescribe.

These instructions may cover the following:


This is the recommended amount of medicine to be taken at any one time. The dosage depends on the age of the patient.


This refers to the intervals at which the medicine is to be taken. Frequency informs the patient how often the medicine should be taken; that is, whether once, twice, or thrice a day. It may or may not specify the time in relation to meals.


This advice on how long the medicine should be taken before it is discontinued.


This gives instructions on how the medicine is to be stored, for example, to keep in a cool dry place, in a refrigerator, away from children or away from direct sunlight.

Instructions for use

In some cases, the medicine has to be shaken well before use, and the container has to be tightly cooked before storage.


Some medicines cause drowsiness. The patient is, therefore, advised not to drive, drink alcohol or operate a machine after the medicine.

What information should you always share with your healthcare provider?

➽Tell your healthcare provider (your doctor, nurse, pharmacist, and dentist):
  • If you are allergic to any medications or have had an unusual reaction to any medication, food, or other substance
  • If you are currently taking any other medications (including over-the-counter medications) or dietary supplements, such as herbal preparations, vitamins, and minerals. Eye drops should be included in your list. Some skin lotions also contain medicines.
  • If you are pregnant, think you might be pregnant, or plan to become pregnant
  • If you are breastfeeding
  • If you are following a special diet, such as a low-sodium or low-sugar diet
  • If you have any other medical problems other than the one(s) for which your medication is being prescribed
  • If you have problems taking medication
Note: The following information is general guidelines. Be sure to ask your healthcare provider for guidelines specific to the medications you take.

What do you need to know to take your medications properly?

  • Take your medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor, including at the right times and for the full length of your prescribed treatment.
  • Read the package insert and/or patient product information sheet that comes with your prescription. Review possible drug side effects (i.e, adverse reactions), warnings, and precautions. Although most side effects or adverse reactions occur when a new drug is just started, this is not always the case. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any unusual side effects after taking your medication.
  • Know the purpose of each prescription and over-the-counter medication and dietary supplement. Also, know how they work in the body.
  • Carry a list with you of the names and dosages of all your current prescription and over-the-counter medications (generic and brand names), vitamins and dietary supplements. Make copies of this list and give to ALL your caregivers – doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and dentists).
  • Do not stop taking your medication unless you first talk to your doctor. Stopping your medication too early can cause the illness to return, make it more difficult to treat or cause unwanted side effects.
  • Talk to your doctor before starting any new prescription or over-the-counter medication.
  • Ask your doctor if you need to wear medical identification for your type of medication. When taking some medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin®) or insulin, you must wear medical identification in case you need emergency medical treatment.

When should you take your medication?

  • Try to take your medications at the same time every day. Follow your doctor's orders to achieve the full benefit and lessen the possible side effects of your medications.
  • Don't panic if you miss a dose of your medication. Take it as soon as you remember. If it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and return to your regular medication schedule. Do not take two doses to make up for the dose you missed.
  • To help you stay on track, use pill organizers that separate your medication into the days of the week and times of day (For example one pill organizer for morning doses; one for evening doses). Fill the pillbox at the beginning of each week. Always keep any remaining medications in their original containers.

Basic Medication Instructions

While you should always follow your doctor’s instructions, note these basic guidelines when taking medication:
  • Add or change one medicine at a time.
  • Start with lower doses and increase slowly.
  • Start taking a new medication when you don't have to do anything potentially dangerous such as driving a car.
  • Assume any new symptom is a recently started medication, stop the medication and call your prescribing doctor.
  • Know the more common side effects of the medications (for example, sedation, fatigue, constipation, nausea, rash, swelling, anxiety, insomnia).
  • Keep a medication list with you. Know the names and what they are for.
  • Create a pain regimen with choices from the following categories: acetaminophen, NSAID, LA opioid, breakthrough opioid, antidepressant, anti-neuropathic, muscle relaxant, anti-fatigue, and anti-constipation.
  • Buy a pillbox and fill it at the beginning of the day with just your daily pill needs.
  • Keep all of your medications in a safe place with any future prescriptions.

Please contact your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your medication.


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