How to Make Smart Medication Choices

Your doctor isn't the only one calling the shots about your health. You've got a say, too, especially when it comes to the medicines you take.

"You play a big role in creating your treatment plan," says Wanda Filer, MD, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "You know your medical history, medications you're allergic to, and your budget."

Talk about these things with your doctor. Together you'll make the best decisions about the medicine you need.

Questions to Ask

There are a lot of factors that go into picking a treatment that's right for you. Ask your doctor these questions:

Why do I need this medicine? "You're more likely to take a medication if you understand why you're taking it," says Eva Waite, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

If you skip a medicine, it can have serious effects on your health. For example, if you don't take your blood pressure drugs, it can lead to heart disease or stroke.

What are the side effects? Find out what to expect. It can help you decide which medications work best for your lifestyle.

"Together, you can try to pick the ones that have the fewest side effects or those that are most acceptable to you," Waite says.

For example, certain drugs might make you feel like you have to use the bathroom more often. For some people this may not be a big deal. But if your job involves spending a lot of time in your car, then you may need to find a medicine that treats your condition without this side effect.

How often do I need to take it? If it's hard for you to remember to take your medicine several times a day, talk it over with your doctor.

"There are many medications that come in combinations," Waite says. "So instead of taking three different blood pressure pills, you may be able to take just one pill that contains all three." 

How much does it cost? Even if you have health insurance, drugs can be pricey. Don't let that stop you from taking them.

"If you let your doctor know that cost is an issue, he or she can often help you find a cheaper alternative," Filer says. "Sometimes your doctor can adjust your dose so that you only need to take a medication once a day instead of twice. This may also make a difference in the cost."

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Talk About Medications You're Taking

Before your appointment, write down all the medications you use now. Bring the list with you.

"Be sure to include any supplements you take, too," Waite says. This includes vitamins, minerals, and herbal products. The information can help you avoid harmful interactions.

"For example, ginkgo biloba can cause bleeding," she says, "so your doctor would want to know that you're taking it before adding a blood thinner that can increase your risk of bleeding, too."

Your relationship with your doctor can make a big difference in how well your treatment plan works. Don't stop taking a drug without discussing it with him first.

"There are solutions to nearly every issue you might face while taking a medication," Waite says. "You just need to let your doctor know about them so you can solve it together."

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 23, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

Wanda Filer, MD, president-elect, American Academy of Family Physicians; family physician, York, PA.

Eva Waite, MD, assistant professor, internal medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City.

American Heart Association: "Medication Adherence -- Taking Your Meds as Directed," "Water Pill."

Xinhuan W. Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, published online February 2014.

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Tips for Talking to Your Doctor."

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