Medically Approved

6 questions to ask about a new medication

4 minute read
Person looking at pills

Don’t leave your doctor’s office without this key info about your prescription.

Lauren Bedosky

By Lauren Bedosky

Your doctor just prescribed you a new medication. Before you leave the office, it’s important to understand exactly what you’re about to take and how it could affect you.

Here are some key questions to ask.

Question #1: Are there side effects I should watch out for?

You can always find information about side effects on the package insert that comes with your medicine.

However, chances are you’ll see a list of many possible side effects, says Amy Anderson, MD. She’s a family medicine doctor with MultiCare Rockwood Clinic in Spokane, Washington.

Your provider will be able to tell you the key info you need, such as what the most common side effects are — and whether they’re a risk for you.

It’s also important to talk about side effects because some of them can be prevented. For example, medications used to treat high blood pressure or heart disease can lower your blood pressure when you stand up after sitting or lying down. That increases the risk of fainting.

“If the doctor or pharmacist warns about this potential side effect, then the patient knows to get up carefully,” says Inna Lukyanovsky, PharmD. She’s a doctor of pharmacy and a functional medicine practitioner in Marlboro, New Jersey.

Whether you have a new prescription or need a refill, the Optum Store can help you save on your blood pressure medication — and have it shipped right to your door.

Question #2: Are there any possible drug interactions?

In some cases, taking 2 or more prescription medications or over-the-counter (OTC) medications can do more harm than good.

Prescription and OTC medications can interact with one another, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some can make your medications less effective, and others can actually cause you harm.

For example, mixing a prescription medication to help you sleep (a sedative) with an OTC medication you take for itchy skin (an antihistamine) can make you extra tired and dizzy. That can make daily activities such as driving dangerous.

Be sure to tell your doctor about any supplements and OTC medications you regularly take. And ask if any of them might interact with your new prescription.

Question #3: When should I take this medication?

Should you take your medication in the morning or evening — or a few times a day?

These questions are important to ask. What time you take your medication often affects how it’s absorbed by the body. And that can determine how effective it is, says Dr. Lukyanovsky.

Also, ask if it’s important to time your medication with meals.

“For example, thyroid medication generally needs to be taken on an empty stomach — and not at the same time as other medications,” says Dr. Anderson. Taking it with food, certain other medications and supplements, and even coffee may lower absorption.

Question #4: How long should I expect to take this medication?

It’s a good idea to know how long you’ll be taking your medication. “Some antibiotics should only be taken for 7 days, whereas a cholesterol medication is likely long term,” says Dr. Anderson.

Plus, some prescriptions should be continued even after you feel better. Antibiotics, for example, need to be used up entirely for the treatment to work.

Question #5: How should I store the medication?

Storing your medications correctly can help ensure that they work as they should. Certain external factors may damage your medications, making them less effective or potentially toxic. Those include:

  • Heat
  • Air
  • Light
  • Moisture

It’s often best to store medications in a cool, dry place and keep them in their original container. But some medications need to be stored in the refrigerator.

Be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist if there are any specific storage instructions you should follow.

Question #6: What should I do if I forget to take it?

It can be tricky to keep track of your medication schedule, especially if you’re taking more than one medication or dose a day.

So ask your doctor what to do if you miss a dose. Some medications can still be taken if it’s been only 1 or 2 hours. But some — particularly those taken in multiple doses throughout the day — can’t.

Also, ask your doctor what you should do if you accidentally double up on a dose. In some cases, taking too much medication simply causes unpleasant side effects. (And sometimes you may not have any side effects at all.)

Antibiotic overdoses, for example, are rarely dangerous. But they can lead to an upset stomach and diarrhea, according to the National Capital Poison Center.

But it can be dangerous to take some classes of medications twice. Common ones to watch out for include medications that treat:

  • Heart problems
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic pain

Man holding up medication
The Optum Store can help you save on your medication — and deliver it right to your door

Additional sources
Antibiotics: National Capital Poison Center (n.d.). “Antibiotics: Overdose vs Misuse”
Drug interactions: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (n.d.). “Drug Interactions: Understanding the Risk”