Medication Management For Chronic Illness
The average chronic illness patient takes prescription medications to alleviate symptoms or slow disease progression. How do you manage your medications?
Visiting the doctor we receive prescriptions for medications that we are instructed to take.
But how often do you ask all of the questions you want to ask at your appointment?
Hardly ever. There is no time.
Not to mention, do you even know what it is you should be asking?
It could possibly be that I worked as a nurse, or that my chronic illness has SEVERAL restrictions on the medications I can take, that I find this to be important.
I learned after having conversations throughout the chronic illness community that medication management is not common knowledge.
Our appointments are rushed and a lot of people use chain pharmacies.
This really eliminates the opportunities to connect with our medical professionals.
Properly managing your medications can be life saving for you and/or for others.
It is unfortunate, but we do not always investigate everything we put into our bodies.
These treatments should be helpful and not harmful.
Any form of medication causes a chemical reaction in the body; good or bad.
We are all so unique that these reactions effect each of us differently.
A way you can advocate for yourself is to educate yourself on your medications.
Professionals are responsible for providing accurate prescriptions to you, but humans do make mistakes.
It is crucial to double check your personal medications before consuming them.
People that choose to become a nurse take several classes on this, so this is merely an outline of some ideas for you to become more active in managing your medications.
WHAT’S ON THE LABEL?
Every prescription bottle should have specific information on the label.
Your name is a well known portion of the label.
However, the medication name is not so common, and is important to check.
Generic medications and brand name medications can have confusing or similar names to other drugs.
Make sure that you know the name of the drug you are taking.
Sometimes we are prescribed meds that are given to us for reasons that are not the “main reason” for the drug. It is not unusual.
This is where the trust between you and your doctor really matters.
Aside from the medication name, there is an expiration date on the label.
This date will change with each medication. Some meds lose their potency.
For example, if you have out of date antibiotics laying around, it is not smart to take them. It can even make you sick.
A way you can check tablets is to see if they crumble. This is usually a good indication to make sure your medicine is not old.
If it crumbles, double check the date and when in doubt throw it out. (Make sure you have enough medicine to get through and always speak with your doctor)
You also want to make sure the pill is supposed to be a pill.
Well… a capsule, a tablet, topical ointments, an oral suspension (liquid), a suppository, and other methods are all ways your medicine can be prepared.
Each form can make the absorption much different, which makes the effects also different.
A capsule is not meant to be crushed or broken.
This can be harmful and you should always speak with your doctor and/or pharmacist before doing so.
I have to crush my medications because of dysphagia. I get specific forms of medications to make this possible.
There are also important pieces of information when the label states the dosage.
You want to make sure you know WHEN and HOW MUCH of this medication to take.
Whenever you get the prescription you can even do a quick google search to see if your pill in your hand matches the name of the medication you are on.
This isn’t a reliable method, but it is helpful for a quick reference.
There are numbers and letters on each pill as indications of what it is.
Physically placing the medication in your hand and examining it can go a long way.
There are always phone numbers to speak with a pharmacist about specifics.
Calling the medical professional that wrote the prescription (name on the label) is also an option if you have any questions.
The quantity should be on the label.
Especially when dealing with narcotics, I count my pills before I consume one of them.
As must as I trust my pharmacist, this not only protects me but also him.
I count my medication before leaving the pharmacy.
Check the label before leaving too!
If there is a question, ask! If there is an error on the label, speak up and let the pharmacist know ASAP.
This can really help in preventing medication errors.
STORING AND DISCARDING YOUR MEDICATIONS
For storing your medications there are things to consider.
The label on the bottle will also include if you need to store the medicine in the refrigerator after opening.
I have had liquid medications that require this often.
It is also pretty normal to not store your meds in a humid place.
The bathroom and kitchen are the WORST places.
I found this to be a difficult adjustment because I used to keep mine in the cabinet in the bathroom. Isn’t this why they made the medicine cabinet?
It is actually a terrible idea.
Finding a cool and dark place is a good idea, without the humidity.
I now have storage containers to store my pill bottles in that I keep in a closet.
Make sure the bottle lids are tight and sealed.
Try not to leave any loose pills laying around outside of their containers or bottles.
This is a bad idea for several reasons.
If I have creams I try to place them in a ziplock bag just because of their lids.
Narcotics are always an exception because of their toxicity.
You can find a list of narcotics on the CDC website.
I like to store mine in a safe that only myself and health care surrogate (my spouse) has access to.
We have a teenager and two dogs that are capable of opening doors.
This gives me peace of mind and may not be necessary, but I would rather be safe than sorry in this situation.
All of the medications you store, KEEP THE TAGS, AKA the tear off prescription label that has all of the information that the label does on it.
When traveling, storage is a little different and depends on where you live.
I ALWAYS keep these print out tags with my medication and keep them in the ORIGINAL bottle when possible.
It is great to use a pill organizer for travel, but without proof that these medications are yours, you could get into serious trouble.
I use this pill container for boating because it is waterproof and much smaller, and for one emergency med.
Because I have never had a ticket in my life (yes, you read that right) I want to keep this record.
I keep a copy of the tags or the label in my glove compartment right beside my registration.
This is just in case a pill drops on the ground in my car, or if I am having brain fog moments that day. It happens.
I would feel awful if my husband got pulled over and got into trouble for my medication mistakes.
For discarding medications, there are things to consider.
I think the number one rule would be to NOT THROW YOUR PILLS IN THE TOILET.
Believe it or not, it took me years to learn this information.
I never thought twice about chunking my pills in any random garbage.
Not only is this dangerous to the water supply or sewer system, but it is bad for the environment.
The CDC (Center of Disease Control) has sent emails to me in the past about how to properly discard medications (I am on their mailing list).
When dealing with needles or sharps, you have to dispose of these in a sharps container.
If you choose not to do this, a usual instruction is to take them to your local police department or fire department.
These cannot be thrown in the regular garbage for the safety of others.
For the bottles or boxes that the medicine comes in, you can take a permanent marker and mark out your personal information on the label before tossing those out.
This will prevent anyone from gaining your personal information.
If there are any inserts that you have kept, these can be dipped into water and all of the words will melt away. If I don’t shred documents, I use this for other personal info.
When dealing with narcotics you have to be EXTRA careful.
Children, pets, and other family members do not need to accidentally get into these medications.
Throwing them in the bottom of the garbage can isn’t the best option.
I have seen people use kitty litter or coffee grounds to mix the medication in.
You can crush it and add it to one of these solutions and have no fear that someone can accidentally take the medicine.
Make sure you keep the new mixture out of reach still.
If you are uncomfortable doing this, there are disposal powders that are made for this purpose.
Bring mindful of where we store and discard our medications is a responsibility we take when we fill our prescriptions.
TAKING MORE THAN ONE PRESCRIPTION
If you have a chronic illness, chances are you have more than one doctor your visit.
A lot of times, the specialists do not communicate with the other medical professionals such as your primary care physician.
If you do not report your medications to the new doctor, they may never know what you are taking.
This can be dangerous!
Sometimes, you may have done everything correctly, but the information gets lost in translation.
There are certain medications that can not be taken with each other.
Some have slight reactions, like making you a little more tired or nauseated.
These side effects are not fun to deal with but usually either get better with time, or are less severe than you opting to not take the medication.
However, if you take the wrong medications together it can be lethal.
You need to make sure the medicine you are on is not interacting with the other.
When you get beyond four or five types of medicine, this can be tricky.
It is ALWAYS okay to ask the prescribing doctor if the new medicine works with your current list.
Review it with them if you have to. Double check with the pharmacist. It is your only life!
Keeping a medication list current and on you at all times really does help.
Now for this part… I have terrible anxiety, so I usually ask my pharmacist if my new medication is okay.
We have a close relationship and he is very familiar with my neuromuscular condition.
I do this because I do not read the insert out of fear that I will develop a side effect due to my anxiety.
If you do not have this issue, read the insert.
There are great resources like staying out of the sun, avoiding grapefruit juice, etc.
These may not always be life saving tips, but they also help with the effectiveness of the medication.
Why take the drug if it is not working?
There is also a number for reporting any side effects.
This will help the next person/people when they are prescribed this medication.
Everyone is so different so it is also good to keep a journal of your personal experience with a new medication.
Just grab a notebook and write down when you took the med, how it made you feel, if you ate with it or not, etc.
Some problems can be solved by just knowing the information.
For example, I get nauseated when taking my steroid.
If I drink a glass of milk or eat a good portioned meal, I no longer have this side effect.
With these tips in mind, I think listening to your body is one of the most important parts of managing your medications.
There are plenty of responsibilities with chronic illness.
Medications and treatment plans are a few of them.
Handling these medications safely and keeping your medical professionals informed can save lives, including yours.
When I first became ill, it never occurred to me that I would fill prescriptions that I didn't take all of or would have to discard.
I didn't think twice about where to toss the medicine. Some of this is learned over mistakes and time.
I have spoken to a lot of people who believe that sometimes a brand name versus a generic makes a difference in the effectiveness of some drugs.
These are conversations to have with your doctor and pharmacist.
Sometimes adjustments can be made, so please do not suffer in silence.
If you have any tips on how you manage your medications, please comment below!
I hope you have found a practical way to take your medications and are at a pharmacy that benefits you.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. If you are experiencing an emergency, please contact the appropriate services. The "C" Spot does not offer any treatment plan or diagnosis.
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