What to Ask Your Pharmacist When Starting a New Medication

Many of the things I list in my article on What to Tell Your Doctors When They’re Prescribing a New Drug for You also fall within the domain of the pharmacist, but there are other important topics you should talk to your pharmacist about when you are having a prescription filled.

Questions to Ask
  • How many times per day should you take your medicine?
  • What time of day should you take your medicine? For instance, a drug that is taken once per day may need to be taken in the morning or the evening, depending on the type of drug.
  • Should you take your medicine with food or on an empty stomach?
  • Are there certain foods—like grapefruit—that you must avoid because they interact with the prescription drug?
  • Are there certain warnings (and warning labels) of which you need to be aware? For example, can the medication make you drowsy, which could make operating a vehicle or heavy equipment dangerous? (see more about potential side effects below).
  • Does the drug have an expiration date?
  • How should you store your medication? Unopened insulin vials or cartridges, for example, should be kept refrigerated until you start using them. Blood glucose test strips should be stored in their original container. If a tamper-proof container isn’t suitable for you, can the medication be placed in an easy-to-open container? If you have problems with arthritis, for example, you may find that the tamper-proof pill bottle you just picked up is impossible for your sore hands to open. Tell your pharmacist if you think you will need your medications dispensed to you in a container that will be easy to open. And of course make sure you keep such a container well out of reach of children.
  • What should you do if you miss a dose of your medicine? Or inadvertently took an extra dose? In general, no harm will come to you in either of these events but best to be prepared in advance in case this situation ever presents itself.
Know What Side Effects To Look Out For

Every medicine has the potential to cause side effects. And if you’re like most people, you’ve likely seen a long, intimidating—or downright frightening—list of possible drug side effects on an information sheet that your pharmacist gave to you when you picked up your prescription medicine. Or maybe you’ve seen an equally scary list when looking up information online. Or maybe you saw some article in the newspaper or heard from a friend about the dangers of this or that drug.

All medicines have the potential to cause side effects and some of these side effects can be very dangerous indeed. However, there’s a “but” for you to be aware of… and it’s a big but at that. Actually, there are several buts for you to know:

  • Although drugs can cause many different side effects, most people experience no side effects at all.
  • If side effects are experienced, they are usually minor and quickly go away once a drug is discontinued.
  • Serious side effects from most drugs occur only very rarely.
  • For most drugs, if you don’t have side effects soon after starting a medicine, they are unlikely to occur later.

The problem with the side-effect information found in drug information sheets or online is that it typically just lists information without putting things in context. Seldom does this information talk about how rare it is for dangerous side effects to occur.

The next time you are prescribed a drug, I would recommend you ask your doctor and your pharmacist the following three questions:

  • What are the common side effects of which you should be aware?
  • What are serious side effects of which you should be aware?
  • What should you do if you think you are having a side effect?

To illustrate this, let’s say you have been prescribed metformin and you’ve asked the preceding three questions. My answers would be: Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. A serious side effect is lactic acid build-up in the body.

What To Do If You Think You’re Having a Side Effect

If you’re having only mild nausea, try putting up with it for a few days and see if it goes away. If your nausea is more severe or you’re having vomiting or diarrhea, stop the drug and call your doctor. If you’re having severe symptoms, such as continuous vomiting, abdominal pain, and muscle aches, go to the emergency room.

Leave a Reply