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Understanding your prescription

Keeping track of your medicines - and knowing how and when to take them - is important to your health.

How to take medicines safely

What to do

  • Take your medicine(s) as directed.
  • If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you can.
    • If you do not remember to take it until it is time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and return to your regular schedule.
    • Never double up on doses.
  • If you are pregnant, please talk with your health care provider before taking any medicines.
  • If you are seeing more than one health care provider, tell each one which medicines you are taking.
  • To help with upset stomach, take your medicine with a small snack, such as soda crackers.
  • To help with dizziness, lie down for a short time after you take your medicine.

What not to do

  • Do not stop taking your medicines without talking to your health care provider or pharmacist.
  • Do not share your medicines with anyone else.
  • Do not take medicines prescribed for anyone else.
  • Do not take any more than the prescribed dose of any medicine.

How to store medicine

  • Follow any special instructions you receive for how to keep your medicine.
  • Keep all medicines (including herbals and vitamins) out of reach of children and pets.
  • Keep medicines in their original containers.
  • Keep all medicines away from heat, light and humidity. Do not keep medicines in the bathroom or near the kitchen sink.

How to buy medicine

  • Have all of your medicines filled at one pharmacy.
  • Call your pharmacy for refills at least one week before your prescription runs out. (Plan ahead for vacations.)

Side effects of medicine

  • Ask your health care provider about potential side effects before you start taking the medicine.
  • If you have any severe or unusual reactions, call your health care provider right away.

How to read the label

  • Read the labels of all prescription and over-the-counter medicines you take.
  • Ask your pharmacist or health care provider if the medicines are safe for you.
  • Read the list of ingredients to make sure you do not have any allergies.
  • Look at the expiration date. Do not keep outdated (expired) medicines.

What to ask your health care provider

Be sure that you ask and understand the following about your medicines:

  • What is the medicine's name? (Know both the generic and brand names of your medicine. For instance, warfarin and Jantoven®, or ibuprofen and Advil®.)
  • Why am I taking it?
  • When do I take it?
  • How much do I take?
  • How long do I take it?
  • Are there any blood tests I need to check how well the medicine is working?
  • Should I take it with food?
  • What side effects are there?
  • How many refills can I get?
  • Are there any precautions I need to take?

When to call your health care provider or pharmacist

Call your health care provider or pharmacist right away if you have unusual feelings after taking medicine. This includes feeling dizzy, itchy or sick to your stomach.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, How to Take Medicines Safely at Home, med-ah-21559 (2/121)
First Published: 08/15/2001
Last Reviewed: 02/01/2012

Keep a medicine list

To help prevent errors, we encourage you to carry an up-to-date list of your medicines with you at all times. Bring it with you when you see the doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

My medicine list

Over-the-counter medicine list

How to treat your child's fever
the cover of Guide for the Care of Children includes a photo of a baby, a toddler and a 5 year-old

If your child has a fever or feels ill, use acetaminophen or ibuprofen.