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8 Ways Your Doctor Can Help You With OTC Drugs

Track symptoms and ask the right questions to ensure safe OTC drug use.
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WebMD Feature

Doctor’s phones across the country are ringing off the hook. Concerned health consumers like you are asking how the FDA’s potential restrictions on the use of acetaminophen might affect them. Overuse of this popular painkiller can -- and does -- cause liver failure and even death. And the acetaminophen news is just the latest in a long line of stories that link common over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to safety issues.

Donnica Moore, MD, is a women’s health expert in Far Hills, N.J., and the editor-in-chief of Women’s Health For Life. She tells WebMD, “When it comes to medication use, talking to your doctor about what you take, why you take it, and how much you take is the best way to protect your health.” WebMD asked a group of medical experts for advice on getting that conversation about safe medication use started and keeping it going. Here are the tips they offered.

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Tip # 1: Get Routine Physical Exams

One problem with using over-the-counter pain killers and other OTC drugs is that they work by relieving symptoms. While that’s what they’re supposed to do, when an OTC medicine provides relief, it also hides a symptom that something serious may be going on. But, says Moore, “Routine physical exams can help identify any risk for disease or any underlying conditions that may be masked by regular over-the-counter drug use.”

Tip #2: Brown Bag Your Medications

Megan Berman, MD, is an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. She tells WebMD that if you are taking multiple medications, especially over-the counter products, you should bring them to your next clinic visit. That way your doctor can assess what you are taking and determine if any of the medications interact. “People who are on a bunch of medications,” Berman says, “may not be aware of what is in them. So bringing them to a doctor’s visit can help avoid double-dipping, accidental overdose, and dangerous interactions.” Herbal remedies and nutritional supplements count too, she says. These products may be “all-natural,” but they can be potent and may interfere with other medications and cause side effects.

Tip # 3: Keep an Over-the-Counter Diary

If you are concerned that you are taking too much cold medicine or OTC pain reliever, Moore suggests you keep a symptom diary. In addition to writing down your symptoms, you can also track how much medication you are taking on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Then you can use the diary to help you discuss your medication use with your doctor. Moore says, “The two of you may be able to figure out what is really going on and come up with a plan on how to better treat your symptoms.”

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