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Taking medicines - what to ask your doctor

Medications - taking


Many people take medicines every day. You might need to take medicine for an infection or to treat a chronic illness.

Take charge of your health. Ask questions and learn about the medicine you take.

Take charge of your health

  • Know what medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements you take.
  • Make a list of your medicines to keep in your wallet.
  • Take time to understand the purpose of your medicine.
  • Ask questions when you don't know the meaning of related words, or when instructions aren't clear. And write down the answers to your questions.
  • Bring a family member or friend to the pharmacy or to your doctor's visits to help you retain the information you are given.

Get information about your new medicine

When your doctor prescribes a medicine, find out about it. Ask questions, such as:

  • What is the name of the medicine?
  • Why am I taking this medicine?
  • What is the name of the condition this medicine will treat?
  • How long will it take to work?
  • How should I store the medicine? Does it need to be refrigerated?
  • Can the pharmacist substitute a cheaper, generic form of the medicine?
  • Will the medicine create conflicts with other medicines I take?

Find out how to take the medicine

Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse about the right way to take your medicine. Ask questions, such as:

  • When and how often should I take the medicine? As needed, or on a schedule?
  • Do I take medicine before, with, or between meals?
  • How long will I have to take it?

Know what to expect with the new medicine

Ask about how you will feel.

  • How will I feel once I start taking this medicine?
  • How will I know if this medicine is working?
  • What side effects might I expect? Should I report them?
  • Are there any lab tests to check the medicine's level or for any harmful side effects?

Ask if this new medicine fits in with your other medicines.

  • Are there other medicines or activities I should avoid when taking this medicine?
  • Will this medicine change how my other medicines work? (Ask about both prescription and over-the-counter medicines.)
  • Will this medicine change how any of my herbal or dietary supplements work?

Ask if your new medicine interferes with eating or drinking.

  • Are there any foods that I should not drink or eat?
  • Can I drink alcohol when taking this medicine? How much?
  • Is it OK to eat or drink food before or after I take the medicine?

Ask other questions, such as:

  • If I forget to take it, what should I do?
  • What should I do if I feel I want to stop taking this medicine? Is it safe to just stop?

When to call the doctor or pharmacist

Call your doctor or pharmacist if:

  • You have questions or you are confused or uncertain about the directions for your medicine.
  • You are having side effects from the medicine. Do not stop taking the medicine without telling your doctor. You might need a different dose or a different medicine.
  • Your medicine looks different than you expected.
  • Your refill medicine is different than what you usually get.


Your medicine: Be smart. Be safe. Patient Guide. AHRQ Publication No. 11-0049-A, April 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD, and the National Council on Patient Information and Education, Rockville, MD. Accessed May 10, 2014.

NIH Senior Health. Taking medicines safely. January 2011. Accessed May 10, 2014.

Update Date 5/11/2014

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