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Get the best benefit from your medications

“Take two tablets on an empty stomach.” … “Take after meals.” … “Swallow with a full glass of water.” … “If you miss a dose, don’t double up.” … “Swallow pills whole.”

There are so many things to remember when taking prescribed medications, it’s not surprising that many people—up to one half of the population, in fact—don’t take their medicines properly. The fact is, not taking prescription medicine properly or not taking it at all can be dangerous. So why do people play dice with their prescription drugs? Here are a few theories:

Many people believe they should take medicines only when they feel sick. Some diseases, like hypertension, don’t make people feel sick at all. Hypertension is called the “silent killer” because by the time symptoms start to show up, the disease is generally much harder to control. Dangerously high cholesterol levels are another case in point: Patients don’t feel any better when they take their pills and don’t feel any worse when they don’t.

Some people experience side effects that feel worse than the original condition. Some drugs do cause side effects, but when the dosage is adjusted, these generally disappear. If that doesn’t work, your doctor will probably prescribe a different drug. That’s why it’s important to report bothersome symptoms.

Sometimes patients don’t have enough information about their medications. Doctors and pharmacists may offer standard printed instructions and information to patients about medications, but many patients are still left with questions about why a drug is needed, how to take it and how to minimize side effects. That’s why it’s important to leave your doctor’s office with a clear understanding of why you’re taking a drug and the proper way to take it.