These professionals may have more answers than you realize.
Whether you are about to start a new medication or you have been taking the same prescriptions for years and are wondering if there are different options, talking to your doctor is always advisable. But that’s not the only professional who can help.
“In many ways, pharmacists are underutilized as a resource, and I always encourage my patients to ask questions at the pharmacy,” says Michelle Ogunwole, M.D., a specialist in internal medicine and research fellow at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. “That’s especially true if you’re taking multiple medications and you’re concerned about side effects or interactions.”
With that in mind, we asked Danielle Plummer, Pharm.D., a pharmacist in Las Vegas and owner of HG Pharmacist consulting, for the best questions to ask to tap into your pharmacist’s wealth of knowledge.
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Question #1: What should I know about taking this medication?
A pharmacist can always cover basic information like common side effects, but there are many other considerations, Plummer says. How you react to the drug could vary dramatically based on time of day, other medications you take, and whether it’s taken with food.
For example, levothyroxine (Synthroid), which treats thyroid issues, should be taken on an empty stomach because it interacts with foods. It also interacts with medications that contain calcium, iron, and other metals, Plummer advises.
If a medication can potentially make you dizzy or sleepy, it’s safest to take it at bedtime. Similarly, if it tends to keep you awake, morning is the ideal time.
It’s even possible for certain medications to react with sunlight. Certain antibiotics, antidepressants, and heart meds can cause photosensitivity, increasing your risk of a rash or sunburn, says Plummer.
Question #2: Can I crush, cut, or dissolve this medication?
If you struggle with taking pills, it can be tempting to cut them into smaller chunks or to crush and dissolve them in a glass of juice or water. For some medications, that’s completely safe, but there are other pills that would be dangerous to break apart.
“For example, do not alter any medications marked as extended release, delayed release, or sustained release,” Plummer says. “That design allows for the correct dose of the medication to reach its site of action over a longer period of time.”
Even if the medication doesn’t have that designation, ask your pharmacist about altering the pills and whether there are any alternatives if you’re having trouble taking them.
Question #3: Do you have any tips for staying on schedule with my medications?
Managing multiple medications at different times of day can be a significant challenge for many people, Plummer says. Pharmacists may be able to tell you if there is a different medication that works the same way but is taken fewer times per day, for instance. They can also suggest ways of keeping track of doses with pill boxes or reminder apps.
Some people also struggle to stay on their medication because it’s just too expensive, she adds. If cost is a factor for you, your pharmacist may have ideas for saving money. You may be able to use a prescription drug coupon app, or you might be able to switch to a similar medication that’s covered by your insurance.
Question #4: What are the most common side effects of this medication?
Pharmacists know a great deal about each of the medications they dispense, Plummer says. For instance, some might turn your urine different colors. Phenazopyridine (Azo or Pyridium), which treats urinary tract infections, will make it red or orange. The arthritis medication indomethacin (Tivorbex) could have you peeing a blue or green hue.
Some medications can cause side effects even though they’re doing what they’re supposed to. “Blood pressure medications may make you dizzy as your blood pressure decreases to a safe range,” Plummer says. “And some medications that lower blood sugar levels have the potential to lower it too much, a condition known as hypoglycemia.”
Knowing common side effects helps you be aware of those potential changes, Plummer says. If you experience discomfort from any of the effects, your pharmacist may be able to suggest alternative medications—or advise you to check in with your doctor if needed.
Question #5: Is there anything I should be monitoring while I take this?
If you take a medication to lower your blood pressure or regulate blood sugar, it’s important to make sure that they’re working the way you need. That means checking your levels regularly at home, with a blood pressure monitor or glucose monitor.
Prices on these devices can vary dramatically, Plummer says, and your pharmacist can point you toward options that are right for you. They can also make sure you’re comfortable using the one you choose before leaving the pharmacy.
The most important takeaway: Your pharmacist is an important health resource, and a very valuable one at that. If you’ve got questions, never hesitate to ask.
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