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Medication safety tips: Dos and don’ts

Up to half of all medicines prescribed for long-term conditions are not taken as the doctor intended.

Whether it is a prescription medication or an over-the-counter medication, these safety tips are a good place to start to get the most out of your medication.

Know your medications

What you don't know CAN hurt you. The more you know about the medicines you use, the better you can be sure you're using them properly.

It will also be helpful if you request a Medicines Use Review (MUR) or medicines check-up. This is an NHS service where you request a meeting with your pharmacist to talk about:

  • The medicines you are taking
  • What they do
  • How well they work for you
  • How to get the most out of them.


Dos and don'ts

These safety tips can help you make sure your medication works safely to improve your health.

Four medication dos:

  • Take your medication as it has been prescribed.
  • Make sure all your doctors and other healthcare professionals you see know about all the medications and supplements you take in case any of them may affect the others.
  • If you always use the same pharmacy for your prescriptions, they can help you keep track of everything you're taking.
  • Keep medications out of the reach of children.

Five medication don'ts:

  • Never stop taking medication or change the dose without seeking medical advice.
  • Never use someone else's prescription medication.
  • Not all tablets can be broken in half or crushed, so check with the doctor or pharmacist if you have trouble swallowing tablets or capsules.
  • Safely dispose of medication that has passed its expiry date by taking it to a pharmacist.
  • Don't keep medication or supplements in parts of the home that get too hot, cold or steamy, such as bathrooms.


Prescription medication safety tips

Before any new medication is recommended, tell your doctor, dentist or pharmacist if:

  • You are allergic to any medications or their ingredients
  • You are currently taking any other over-the-counter or prescription medications or supplements
  • You may be pregnant, are pregnant, or breastfeeding, so that appropriate medication can be selected
  • You have problems taking any medications, such as difficulty swallowing.

When taking medication, consider these tips:

  • Check the label the pharmacy sticks on the packaging detailing how the medication should be taken and confirming it has been prescribed for you.
  • Understand why you are taking each medication, check with the doctor or pharmacist, or read the leaflet in the packaging if you are unsure.
  • Keep an updated list of all medications and their dosages in case this is needed at medical appointments or during an emergency.
  • Some medications cause side-effects, especially when you first take them. These may be explained by the doctor or pharmacist, and others are detailed in the product leaflet. If you have symptoms that are not listed, seek medical advice. The medicines regulator MHRA has a system for reporting new side-effects called the Yellow Card Scheme.
  • If side effects cause too much discomfort, seek medical advice. Don’t just stop taking medication. The doctor may be able to provide an alternative.
  • If you miss a dose of your medication at the scheduled time, it is usually safe to take it when you remember, as long as it is not too close to the next dose. Seek medical advice if you are unsure. Don't take a double dose to make up for a missed one.
  • Don't share your medication with other people, even if it seems they have similar symptoms.
  • Keep medications in their original containers with their labels on if you can, unless you use a special pill daily dose container.
  • Keep an eye on when regular medication will run out and request another prescription in good time. This is very important close to long bank holiday weekends and periods like Christmas and New Year when doctors and pharmacies will be closed for longer.
  • When travelling, keep medication in your hand luggage in case checked-in bags and suitcases get lost.
  • Take extra medication with you when you travel in case you are delayed and you need to stay away longer than planned. Make sure you know about any restrictions on taking some medications to countries abroad that may require a doctor's letter. It can also help to keep a copy of your prescriptions with you to prove the medications are for your own use.

If you have any questions about your medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

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