Reseau® Resource Library

Safe Use of Medications

The Body Handles Medications Differently with Age

With age, there is often a decrease in the body’s ability to absorb and break down medications. This is why older adults frequently need smaller doses of drugs than younger people.

Risks and Benefits

All medicines have risks as well as benefits. The usual benefits are treating disease, curing infection, or relieving pain. The risks are potential side effects -- unwanted or unexpected symptoms or feelings that occur when taking medicine.  Side effects can be relatively minor, such as headache or dry mouth. They can also be more serious such as bleeding or damage to the liver and kidneys.
There is a need to be careful taking any medication, but older adults often take more than one drug. Because drugs can interact in unexpected ways, anyone taking several medications should be especially cautious.

Tips to Avoid Side Effects

Stomach upset -- including diarrhea or constipation -- is a common side effect of many medications. It often helps to take medications with meals.  Check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist to see if you should take a particular medication with food.

Remember these tips to help avoid side effects:

  • Always inform your doctor about all medicines you are already taking -- including herbal products and over-the-counter medications.
  • Tell your doctor or nurse about past problems you have had with medicines, such as rashes, indigestion, dizziness, or loss of appetite.
  • Ask whether the drug may interact with any foods or other over-the-counter drugs or supplements you are taking.
  • Read the prescription label on the container or the drug information sheet that comes with your medication and follow directions. Make sure you understand how often and how much medicine to take each day.
  • Write down side effects you experience to help report them accurately to your doctor.
  • Call your doctor if you have any problems with your medicines or if you are worried that the medicine might be doing more harm than good.

Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medicines

Medicines available without a doctor's prescription are called over-the-counter drugs. It is important to remember that over-the-counter products include many different substances such as vitamins, minerals, dietary supplements, laxatives, cold medicines, and antacids. Any of these can potentially interact with prescription medications and with one another to cause unexpected or unwanted effects. Even some herbal substances can interact with prescription drugs.

Drug Interactions

Be sure to tell your doctor about all medications you take. Include products like pain relievers, antacids, alcohol, herbal remedies, food supplements, and vitamins that you might not think of as medicines. Unwanted side effects can occur when medicines chemically interact with one another. The overall effect of drug interactions may be greater than desired. Some foods or drugs can also prevent certain medicines from working properly.

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