Misconceptions about medicine are becoming more common, especially with so many different resources online available at your fingertips and unproven word-of-mouth theories.
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But having the correct information is extremely important when you’re taking prescription medication. Making sure you know the facts and avoid the myths will keep you safer and healthier.
Pharmacist Marcia Wyman, PharmD, BCPS, debunks seven of the most common myths about medication.
Myth: If you’re really hurting, you can ignore the label and take more pills.
When you’re in severe pain, you may look at the dose on the pain reliever label and think, “an extra dose can’t possibly hurt me.”
The truth is, if you take more than the dosage on the label it can hurt you.
“The recommended dose of an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription drug isn’t just a suggestion — it’s a careful calculation based in years of research, clinical testing and practice,” Wyman says.
Pharmaceutical companies and doctors work hard to develop the appropriate dose of medicine for every person. Taking your pills in any other way than what is on the label can do much more harm than good.
First, taking more than the listed dose in one dosage can rob you of the medicine’s benefits and increase the risk for serious side effects — leaving you feeling worse or putting you in extreme danger.
Second, do not take pills more frequently than what is on the label, thinking you will get better faster.
“Never think that taking medicine in a shorter time (especially all at once) will help you get better — that’s not how most medicines work,” Wyman says.
Your specific dosage amount and the time you need to take it have been prescribed by your doctor for a very particular reason.
Third, it is very possible an overdose can occur when you take more pills than what was prescribed to you in a shorter period of time — which can have dangerous or life-threatening effects.
Myth: Once you feel better, you don’t have to keep taking medication.
If your symptoms are gone but your medication isn’t gone yet, you may be tempted to stop taking your pills.
Your doctor prescribed that medicine because you need it. You want to make sure to take all of the medication your doctor prescribed to you.
If you stop taking your medication early, it can increase your chance of relapsing into illness.
“If you’ve considered stopping your medication because it costs too much, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about ways to reduce the cost,” Wyman says. “There are many ways to make medications more affordable.”
Myth: Natural supplements are always a safe choice.
Natural supplements may seem safer and healthier than medications, perhaps because of the word “natural.”
The word “natural” doesn’t always mean “safe.” It also doesn’t mean you can skip talking to your doctor about them, either.
You should always talk to your doctor about anything you put into your body.
“Everyone is different,” she says. “If you’re interested in natural supplements you still need to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which ones are safe for you to use specifically.”
Also, since the standards for supplements are not as strict, the amount of each ingredient can vary between products. You may not have all of the information you need to take the right amount that works for just you.
Potential side effects may also not be mentioned on the label. Some supplements may also increase the risk of side effects when combined with other health conditions or medications. You may be putting yourself in danger, especially if you have other conditions or are taking other medications.
Myth: Antibiotics are the answer for every illness.
You may have heard the misconception that antibiotics are a treatment for everything — but this is absolutely not true.
Antibiotics are only helpful in illnesses caused by bacteria, such as Strep throat.
Most illnesses, like colds and sore throats, are caused by viruses that don’t respond at all to antibiotics.
That means antibiotics don’t work to treat many, many other illnesses and doctors must weigh very carefully whether or not to prescribe them for you.
Different illnesses (and even different types of bacterial illnesses) require very precise types of treatments.
Doctors also don’t want to prescribe antibiotics when they aren’t needed because overusing them may lead to resistant, hard-to-treat infections.
If you do have a virus-based illness you might be prescribed a different medicine other than an antibacterial treatment. For example, your doctor may prescribe an OTC medication which will usually relieve your symptoms until the virus is gone.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist to recommend OTC solutions that are safe for you and your condition because some can cause side effects like elevated blood pressure.
“If you’re not feeling a lot better in 10 to 14 days, call your doctor as you may have developed a secondary illness or infection. In this case, you may need to switch to a different medicine completely,” Wyman adds.
Myth: You don’t need to tell your doctor which vitamins you take.
You may be thinking vitamins are also somewhat natural because a lot of them are found in foods so you don’t need to even bother mentioning them to your doctor.
When prescribing a new medication or suggesting an OTC remedy your doctor does need to know about your diet, lifestyle and all the OTC and prescription medications, vitamins and supplements you are taking.
This helps your doctor ensure that any new medication will not interact with your current regimen in a dangerous way.
Some medications, vitamins or supplements can hinder the way your body absorbs, breaks down and eliminates medicine.
There can also be other complications when the amount of vitamins you have in your body is too high or too low.
Myth: It’s best to keep medication handy in the bathroom or kitchen sink.
You may think putting medications where you’ll see them every day is the best way to remember to take them.
Although this may remind you to take them, storing medications and supplements on a bathroom countertop or by the kitchen sink is not recommended.
Unless you’re told otherwise, you should always store medications in a dry area, away from heat and direct light — which generally means putting them away and out of sight.
When medications are out in common areas they can be damaged by both dampness and light which can cause problems in how they work for you.
Store them in the original safety-built container or in a pill box that can’t be opened by little hands. And always keep medications and supplements where children and pets can’t reach them.
If you need a reminder to take them when they aren’t in sight, there are many apps with alarms that you can put on your phone or computer as a reminder to take your meds.
Myth: It doesn’t matter how you swallow a pill as long as it gets where it needs to go.
You might think changing how you take your pills (or what you eat or drink with them) is more convenient or works better than the way the label suggests.
You must pay attention to how pills should be taken and always take them exactly according to the label and prescription.
The size and amount of pills are designed so the pill dissolves over a specific amount of time in your system, most likely not all at once.
You should never peel or break the outer coating. Do not cut pills into pieces or crush them unless it says on the label to do so.
Changing the size or makeup of the pill intentionally may affect how your system digests them and can affect how they work for you.
If you have trouble swallowing whole pills, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the alternatives he or she recommends.
Most pills should also always be taken with water to help them dissolve properly in your system. Do not take pills with alcohol as this can be especially harmful. Alcohol can seriously interfere with the way your body absorbs medication.
Rather than taking a sip and then throwing back the pill, swallow enough water to keep the pill from dissolving before it reaches your stomach. This will avoid irritating your throat.
And always check the label to see whether your prescription says to take the medication on a full stomach versus an empty one.
“Following these guidelines and reading medication labels carefully will ensure that your medicine can do its job,” Wyman says, “and will keep you and your loved ones healthy and safe.”