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Answers to Frequently Asked Questions Heard by Pharmacists

Pharmacists are well-versed in pharmacology, a branch of medicine that focuses on the uses and effects of drugs. Because of this, pharmacists understand the therapeutic roles of drugs, the drug side effects, and the interactions drugs may have with other drugs.

Your pharmacist can help monitor and help you manage these effects through compounded medications, diet, dosage/strength changes, and activities that may be affecting the effect of your medications.

Pharmacists are a great resource to patient, and can be another source of information, suggestions, and recommendations, instead of needing to call your doctor. Pharmacists can recommend OTC medications to help ease, or heal, mild ailment such as a mild skin rash, colds, headaches, upset stomach, and numerous other non-serious conditions. Some pharmacists will even be able to take your temperature and help determine if you have the flu or another common illness!

Here are some frequently asked questions heard by pharmacists...

What if medications make me too sleepy? It is not uncommon for some prescription and over-the-counter medications to make you drowsy. It is important to be aware of the potential drowsiness prior to taking a new medication, to prevent injury. As many medications are sedating and can cause issues with balance, it is especially important for seniors to check with their physician or pharmacist about these potential side effects, because drowsiness can increase unstable walking and cause falls. Additionally, dosing schedules are important when trying to avoid daytime drowsiness caused by certain medications.

Regardless, it is always best to check with your doctor or pharmacist before using any medication, especially if you are adding an OTC medication, which may not be part of your medical record.

How does age increase the risk for medication side effects? Although there are plenty of medications that help memory, especially individuals with Alzheimer’s, there are also medications that can cloud memory and interfere with and exacerbate memory issues, and that’s something to watch for in the elderly. Some medications, like certain sleep aids, can leave people a little hazy, and they have a harder time after waking up.

If this happens, you may need talk to your doctor about reducing the medication’s dose.

Why do some medications affect my bathroom habits? Diuretics are medications prescribed to that help increase urine production, reduce blood pressure, or aid victims of congestive heart failure. Diuretic medication removes fluid from the body, thus those taking the this type of medication end up dealing with frequent urination. So when you take a diuretic, you have to consider being home or being close to a bathroom.

Diarrhea is another common side effect of many medications. Antacids with magnesium, antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and chemotherapy medications are some of the most common medicines that induce loose, watery stools.

Does it really matter what time of day you take medications? Yes! A dosing schedule is important, because every medication that you take has a specific dosing schedule — once a day, three times a day, etc. You should try to take your medication at the same time every day for the most beneficial effect of that medication. And if the medication is discontinued by the doctor, that needs to be noted and followed.

How can caregivers help manage medications? When a person is living at home and needs help taking medications, it is important that there is a family member or friend who sets up the medications. A caregiver from a home care agency cannot legally open medication containers and put medications in cassette dispensers and pillboxes. Family members need to do this. A professional in-home caregiver can remind a care client to take their medications or put a medication in the client’s hand or into a cup. The caregiver can observe the care client take the medication and report back to the family about the loved one taking their medication.

How long can medicine be used after the expiration date? This question is known for stirring up controversy. People should be cognitive of expiration dates as certain medications like insulin, nitroglycerin and liquid antibiotics are most sensitive to expiration dates.

If you have questions about the potency and effectiveness of medications you take, always check with your doctor or pharmacist. *You especially don’t want the elderly taking medication that expired years ago.

How should medicines be stored? Medications should be kept in a safe place and out of the reach of children and pets. Although some medications need to be refrigerated, the majority do not, and you can keep them in a dry place that’s not exposed to temperature extremes.

It is important not to mix up your medications. For this reason, it is strongly recommended to keep each medication in its own distinct bottle unless someone is managing the dispensing of medicines via cassettes or pillboxes.

I’ve heard some foods interact with medications. Which ones do this? Eating grapefruit and foods with vitamin K, such as kale, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, cause the most common food-drug interactions. For example, grapefruit can slow the metabolism of some drugs, so it increases the drug levels in your body, while vitamin K helps the body with blood clotting but can interfere with blood-thinning medications.

To be safe with your medications, you can always ask your pharmacist, “Are there any medications where I can’t eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice or eat foods with vitamin K?”

What vaccinations are important for seniors? People over age 65 are at higher risk for flu and should check with their doctor about the right flu vaccination. There are some restrictions for people with certain medical issues, but overall it’s recommended that most elderly people receive the flu shot. In addition to the flu vaccine, anyone over 50 should consider the shingles vaccine. Shingles has had a resurgence lately, especially among older people. If you don’t catch and treat shingles in time, it has some long-term side effects including possible nerve pain and loss of vision. Another beneficial vaccines for seniors 65 and older may be the pneumococcal vaccine, it is important topic to discuss with their doctor.

Do prescription drug prices change from pharmacy to pharmacy? And what can I do as a patient to help control how much I spend on medications?

Prescription drug prices may vary slightly from pharmacy to pharmacy depending on drug type, brand or generic, and markups. Although there is no harm in comparing prices, the difference for commercial medications should be very similar, as the amount your insurance covers for a medication will not change from pharmacy to pharmacy.

However, it is important to keep in mind, the value of what you're paying for. This is particularly important when comparing compounded medications as quality ingredients will always be more pricey.

You can often control how much you spend on medications by limiting the time you dispense medications. By this I mean, if the medication it a long-term-medication, dispense a larger quantity, if your insurance allows you to. It is often (but not always) cheaper per unit to dispense a higher quantity of a medication or ingredient.

Do generic drugs work as well as brand-name drugs?

These days, pharmacies will often encourage the use of generic medications. Generic drugs are required to have a very similar concentration of the same ingredients as brand-name drugs, although, sometimes the binder and fillers that hold the tablets and capsules together may vary slightly. This variance should not effect the over all effect of the drug, generic vs brand, however, this variance may sometimes cause an allergy seen in one but not the other. Otherwise, generic medications are typically substantially cheaper for everyone and are therefore often encouraged or preferred.

Can I drink alcoholic beverages while I am on antibiotics?

Simply put, it all depends on what you’re taking as the answer may vary from drug to drug, not just antibiotics. Pharmacists are aware of any adverse effects that may result from drinking alcohol while on certain medications. Therefore, if you plan on having any alcoholic beverages while on a medication, it’s a good (and important) question to ask your pharmacist.

Although, if there is an issue drinking alcohol while on your medication, it will often be indicated on the label of your prescription, if you’re not sure or you want to confirm, check with your pharmacist.

I’m getting a rash or stomach ache – does it mean I’m allergic to the medication?

Not necessarily or always.

Remember that taking a new medication can come with some side effects, which is what may be causing the rash or stomach ache.

Normally, however, your doctor and pharmacist will engage in a consultation with you to let you know about the logistics of the medication – how you should be taking it, and how it can affect you.

If your doctor and pharmacist highlight potential dangerous side effects, those are the ones you should be paying attention to, in which case a doctor should be notified right away..

I got this flare-up of a certain symptom again, and the last time I had this symptom, it turned out to be this ailment and I was given this medication to treat it. I still have some of that medication left over – can I just continue using that same medication?

The short answer is no.There are a number of factors to be considered for this answer: is the medication still safe to use, are they expired? Could the ailment be something different, or more importantly, something more serious?

It is important not to self diagnose and, instead, to get an opinion (or perhaps testing) from a doctor or nurse practitioner to have the ailment diagnosed.

To conclude

These are just some of the common questions pharmacists hear from customers and patients. It is always recommended that questions or concerns are addressed with your doctor or pharmacist to get their professional, medical opinion. So please, if you have any questions regarding dosing, side effects, use, ailments, drug disposal, or medication management. Feel free to call your local community pharmacy.