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7 Important Steps to Taking Medication Safely

By By Dr. Carolyn B. Jasik, of Mango Health

Multiple sclerosis requires a superhuman attention to detail when it comes to taking meds on time. Changing prescription regimens is common when people experience side effects, face sticky insurance issues, or don’t see the benefit. Since so many people who live with MS are in the prime of their life, they’re also often balancing work and family responsibilities along with their illness.

Medications can easily be overlooked in the reality of everyday life. From remembering every dose to picking up refills, even simple prescription instructions aren’t the easiest to follow. But taking shortcuts can mean compromises to your health and safety. To make sure your medication is as effective as possible, here are the seven important rules to live by:

1. Check for interactions with other medications, food, and drink. Mixing medications with other meds, herbal supplements, and even food and drink can make your treatment less effective. Sometimes these interactions are even dangerous. For example, some antidepressants lessen the effectiveness of prescription heart medications, the supplement St. John’s Wort interacts with multiple drugs (including birth control pills), and even seemingly benign foods like grapefruit and apple juice can make your medications less effective. Always read the interaction information that comes with your medication.

2. Take your medication at a regular time. If you stick to a set schedule you will be less likely to forget your medication, because taking it will become a habit. Plus, many medications work best when you maintain a steady level in your system, so taking them at regularly spaced intervals will provide the most benefit. Put your meds near something else you do on a regular basis, such as your keys or toothbrush.

3.  Don’t be fooled if you are feeling better. The hardest medications to take are the ones that protect (as opposed to the ones that treat problems). After all, it’s not easy to do something every day that doesn’t change how you feel today. This is especially true for MS as often the most important medications prevent flares and other disruptive symptoms. So if you’re taking your meds, you might feel good and be tempted to stop. But remember that it’s necessary to keep up with these preventative meds to keep you feeling at your best.

4. Ask what to do if you miss a dose. If you slip up and don’t take a medication on schedule, should you take it as soon as your remember — even if that means taking two at once — or just skip the dose you missed? The right answer varies depending on your condition, so it’s important that you ask one of your healthcare providers rather than guessing or Googling.

5. Don't cut doses in half. We get it, prescription drugs can be expensive, but you should never take a half dose to save money. Not only will it make your treatment less effective, it can actually be dangerous.

6. Sign up for automatic refills. Ask your pharmacy to sign you up for automatic refills of prescription medications, so that your medication will be waiting for you as soon as you need it. Certain pharmacies also offer mail order services, making refilling even easier by delivering meds straight to your home.

7. Track your side effects. Keep a diary of how your medication makes you feel, as well as any side effects you experience. It can be hard to remember minor changes and symptoms if you don’t write them down, so getting in the habit of keeping a record ensures that you’ll have accurate information to share with your doctor at your next appointment.

About the Author: Dr. Carolyn B. Jasik is a pediatrician and researcher of preventive health and behavior change. Dr. Jasik practices medicine in San Francisco and also works as the VP of Medical Outcomes at Mango Health, a free smartphone app that helps make medications easy. Learn more at mangohealth.com.