Intro: Your doctor hands you a prescription. Now what? You’re wondering if your doctor didn’t tell you all there was to know about the side effects of this new drug or you’re worried that there was an important question you forgot to ask. Or you’ve started a new prescription and now you feel dizzy or nauseated. Is this normal? Like many people, you turn to the Internet (or other sources) for information about drug side effects and find yourself inundated with material. What do you do? Here are 5 ways to research your drug’s side effects — calmly and effectively — without having to earn a medical degree.
2 Ask your pharmacist
“Most people think pharmacists just count pills and put them in little bottles. But in fact pharmacists are the drug information experts,” says Dave Walker, RPh, a pharmacist at the Rinehart Clinic Pharmacy in Wheeler, Oregon. Most pharmacy schools require students to complete more than 2 years of pharmacology and pharmacy therapeutics training in addition to other program requirements.
Many practitioners are also certified in Medication Therapy Management (MTM), says Walker. This allows them to provide one-on-one private counseling sessions, which can last anywhere from ten minutes to two hours, depending on the complexity of a patient’s medication review. During the sessions, a pharmacist may monitor the safety and effectiveness of drugs taken, discuss any potential drug interactions, formulate a treatment plan and document everything so it can be shared with a patient’s physician. (Check with your pharmacist to see whether he is certified in MTM and with your insurance company to see whether it covers these sessions.)
Pharmacists are also well-versed in answering a variety of questions about drug side effects, including the following:
- Why am I taking this medication? Your pharmacist can explain how a medication works in the body, why it is given for a certain condition, the therapeutic properties of the drug, and the side effects and risks involved.
- How and when should I take it? For optimal benefits, certain medications should be taken with food, while others should be consumed on an empty stomach. Your pharmacist can give you instructions on how to take your drug — and tell you which foods and supplements to avoid in order to reduce potential side effects.
- What can I expect to happen if I am taking other medications? Most importantly, your pharmacist will maintain a record of all the drugs you are taking (including OTCs) and can flag any potential problems with drug interactions.
Pharmacists also have access to many different medication guides, including those produced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Such guides can inform you of all the ingredients contained in your medication as well as its risks and possible side effects.