by Linda Richards, RD, MS
“Did I already take my medicine this morning?” It’s sometimes hard to remember, especially if you take a number of different medicines with different doses. If you frequently ask yourself this question, you may find a pillbox useful. Keeping tablets and the like in a pillbox can reduce the chance that you’ll skip a dose or take a double dose. Many people use pillboxes that have seven individual compartments — one for each day of the week — and that can be organized for four doses (morning, noon, evening, and bedtime). Once a week, they organize a week’s supply of their medicines in the pillboxes so that they’ll always know whether they took their dose of a particular medicine or not. Some pillboxes even have alarms that alert you when it is time to take your medicine. If you use a pillbox, remember to hold on to the original container your medicine came in and the instructions that came with it in case you need to check something later on.
There are other aids designed to help you remember whether you’ve taken your medicine or not. Ask your pharmacist for a recommendation.
And on the subject of remembering — remember to take your medicine exactly as your doctor prescribed it. Don’t skip doses, and don’t increase your doses in the hope that a medicine that’s helping will help even more if you take more of it.
Medicines should be stored in a cool, dry place, which means that the bathroom, where many of us keep our medicines, is one of the worst places to do so. Bathrooms are warm and humid, and warmth and humidity can speed up the breakdown of a drug and cause it to lose potency. This is particularly the case with capsules and tablets. If you store your drugs in the kitchen, store them away from any heat-releasing appliances, such as the stove or sink. Some medicines need to be kept in the refrigerator, including the biologics that you inject yourself.
Here are some additional tips for looking after your medicines:
All drugs have potential benefits — and risks. Your doctor prescribes particular medicines for you in the hope that the benefits will outweigh the risks. Your discussions with your doctor and pharmacist should make you aware of a drug’s most common side effects and what, if anything, you can do to decrease your risk of getting them. If you do experience a side effect, a follow-up discussion with the doctor will help you decide if the side effect is worth the benefits you are receiving.
Also, as noted earlier, some medicines have the potential to interact with other medicines — prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, and supplements — and, occasionally, with certain foods. These interactions can increase or decrease a drug’s intended effects, cause you to experience side effects you wouldn’t experience if you were taking only one of the drugs, or make side effects worse. It’s difficult to keep track of all of this, which is why it’s so important that your physician, and your pharmacist, review all your medicines to keep the risks as low as possible.
Here are just a few of the potential side effects and interactions of a number of drugs commonly taken for arthritis. Don’t assume that you don’t need to pay attention if a drug you are taking, or a side effect or interaction, isn’t listed. The list is meant only to give you an idea of the range of side effects and interactions that are possible and the importance of being alert. Always ask your doctor and pharmacist about side effects and interactions, using your meds list as a prompt. (And remember that your doctor won’t necessarily rule out a drug because of its potential side effects. For more on this, see "For More Information.")
NSAIDS. Most people with arthritis take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) at one time or another. NSAIDs include aspirin and aspirin-like drugs. More often used in arthritis are traditional NSAIDs — for example, ibuprofen (brand names Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), and diclofenac (Voltaren) — and the COX-2 inhibitor celecoxib (Celebrex). Arthritis specialists agree that NSAIDs are among the most effective treatments for the pain and inflammation of arthritis. But they can cause many side effects, ranging from heartburn, nausea, and stomach upset to gastrointestinal (GI) ulcers and bleeding, heart attacks and strokes, and kidney problems. As for interactions, there are more than a few. For example, taking an NSAID along with diuretics (water pills) prescribed to control your blood pressure may make the diuretics less effective. Taking an NSAID and a blood thinner such as warfarin (Coumadin) increases the risk of bleeding. And taking an NSAID and a corticosteroid such as prednisone increases the risk of stomach ulcers.
Last Reviewed on June 15, 2011
Linda Richards is a freelance health writer based in Alpine, California.
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