You probably know the script – meds for breakfast, meds for lunch and meds for dinner…but they don’t always help and they often come with side effects.
If we can manage our medication more effectively, they might help us more and the side effects might decrease.
Here are some suggestions to try :
Learn about your meds
Learn which meds are right for your condition. For example, anticonvulsants work best for nerve pain like trigeminal neuralgia rather than standard painkillers. A different type of med could be more suited. Discuss it with your doctor.
Patient Information Leaflet
Always read the Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) which comes with meds. It gives information about dosage, how to take them, any interactions and whether regular blood tests are needed. It also gives a (long) list of possible side effects. It doesn’t mean you will get them all, but if you develop any, check the leaflet. It will tell you how common it is, if it should get better after a few days, if you will need to see your doctor and possibly change meds, or if you should contact a doctor or hospital as a matter of urgency. Some side effects are serious and must never be ignored.
How to take meds
Only take meds exactly as prescribed.
If you don’t know, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
Never increase, decrease or stop taking them without your doctor’s advice. You could become seriously ill.
Some meds need to be increased and decreased slowly. Doctors and the PIL may suggest changing the dose every three days.
From personal experience, and from talking to members of support groups, side effects are often less if you change dosage much more slowly. Perhaps one small amount every week, or even ten days. It does take longer to get to the desired dose, but it often means fewer side effects. Talk to your doctor about this.
If a med is being cut out due to a severe side effect, a doctor will normally recommend stopping abruptly. Only ever do this under their care and supervision.
Don’t just stop a med because you’re feeling better. You are probably feeling better because of that med. Consult with your doctor if you really want to stop taking it and follow their instructions.
It’s normally recommended to take meds spaced evenly (unless advised otherwise by the doctor).
Many meds have a slow or extended release version, or come in the form of a patch. These can often have less side effects because there is an even, continuous amount of the drug in your body throughout the day. It might be worth asking your doctor about this.
If you have problems swallowing tablets whole, do not crush or cut them in half without checking with the pharmacist or reading the PIL. Doing this can ruin the effectiveness of some meds or can cause stomach problems. Try taking them with milk rather than water, or with a spoonful of yoghurt or apple sauce. If you really struggle to take meds, speak to your doctor or pharmacist, as they will have a solution.
Alarms & Pill Boxes
Don’t forget to take your meds. Missing one single dose can upset the applecart. Set an alarm or reminder on your phone or computer so you always take them on time.
You might think pill boxes are for people over the age of 80, but they’re not. Be organised. There will be no confusion about whether or not you took them, then wondering if you should go without, or take another dose.
Sort your meds out one day a week. Do you have so much brain fog that you get muddled easily? If so ask a trusted relative to sort them for you. Some pharmacies also offer this service, many free of charge.
Organising meds into pill boxes also reminds us when we need to reorder a prescription. Always do this in time, so you never run out. Remember to allow extra time for holiday periods.
Nourishment and hydration
Eat well. We are putting very strong meds into our bodies, so keep yourself well nourished. Eat regular meals. And stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Keep a bottle of water by your side, so you don’t forget to drink. This is so important for our general wellbeing, not just if we have to take meds.
Some food should be avoided on certain medications. Grapefruit is a common one. The PIL will advise this.
Alcohol – check the PIL. Some might say to avoid completely, others may allow alcohol, but very often they can interact. Alcohol can sometimes stop meds from working, or the meds can make the alcohol work faster, can make you very sick or can give a severe hangover.
If you are going out, and want to drink, perhaps do a trial run at home first.
Also, regarding food and meds – should meds be taken before, with or after eating? Your doctor, a pharmacist should tell you. If they don’t, check the PIL. It may say either way is fine.
From my own experience, I find it’s better to take them either with or after food. I often find that my side effects are worse if I take meds on an empty stomach.
Generic or brand names?
Meds can come from different manufacturers but should have the same basic active ingredients. There may be a slight difference though.
Think of Kellogg’s compared to supermarket own brand of cornflakes. Some people prefer Kellogg’s, but the supermarket’s own version is cheaper. It’s the same basic product but has slight variations in each version.
The same happens with medication. Each make will be slightly different and some people might find they get on better with one than the other.
Sometimes doctors or pharmacists change the brand when prescribing and people occasionally notice a difference. So if you suddenly don’t get on as well as before, or your side effects are worse, check to see if your meds have been changed to a different version.
In the UK at the moment, meds are being changed to a cheaper version in order to save the NHS some money. That’s fair enough – if we’re cash-strapped, we’d go for the cheaper cornflakes, wouldn’t we? But if you’re not getting on as well as before with the new version, speak to your GP about it. They should change them for you.
Combination of meds
Sometimes a combination of meds is needed, rather than just one on its own. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers when it comes to which meds will work best for us. We are all different so there can be a lot of trial and error to find a med, or a combination of meds that work. But keep trying.
Many people need to take several meds, not just for pain control, but for other conditions too. When we take more than one med, it can be difficult to figure out which drug is causing side effects. Also, side effects might not be from one drug on its own, but due to the combination. It could be that they are interacting with each other. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about splitting them up when you take them. Giving one med a chance to get into your system before adding the other might help.
If your meds aren’t working as well as they should or the side effects are too much to cope with, see your doctor. There are other meds which could help.
Some drugs have newer versions which have been refined slightly and might have fewer side effects. There’s no guarantee that you won’t get any, but it might be worth asking your doctor about those.
Don’t completely rule out a medication because of side effects. Side effects can get easier. And if you couldn’t get on with a med five years ago or it just didn’t help, but the doctor suggests trying it again, don’t give up on it. It might work this time. It’s always worth trying.
Reporting side effects
Always tell your doctor about side effects, but especially if you suffer from a side effect which isn’t listed in the PIL, or is listed as rare, or uncommon. You can also report it to the governing body.
In the UK, you can register to the Yellow Card Scheme to report here
In the USA, you can report to the FDA here
Every country has its own reporting system. Use a search engine to find yours, by typing “how to report medication side effects in (your country)”
By managing your medication more effectively, you might find a difference. Hopefully, they’ll work better for you and you’ll see a decrease in your side effects. Please let me know what you think in the comments below.
I know how difficult it can be dealing with strong meds. My next post will have some tips for coping with side effects. Follow my blog to get a notification when it’s been posted.
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(The suggestions in this post come from me, as a long term chronic pain sufferer, who has had many years of taking various types of medication. They do not replace advice from a doctor or other qualified health practitioner)