Drug names are often hard to pronounce, difficult to remember, and easy to mix up. An error when you list your drugs could mean a potential interaction will go unnoticed. For example, Klonopin (the brand name of clonazepam, used to treat panic attacks) may be mistaken for clonidine, a common blood pressure medication. However, if you tell a pharmacist or health care professional that you're taking Klonopin to bring down your blood pressure, he or she is likely to realize that you're actually taking clonidine. Consider labeling each pill bottle or package with the reason you're taking the drug—for example, "blood pressure."2. Know how to take the drug
It's important to learn whether to take your medication with food or on an empty stomach. For example, taking a bisphosphonate (a class of drugs used to arrest bone loss) with milk, coffee, or juice or eating anything within 30 minutes of taking the medication will negate its effects. On the other hand, some drugs are better taken with food, either to aid their absorption or to prevent them from irritating the stomach lining. And some drugs are not to be taken with specific foods. For example, the antibiotic tetracycline shouldn't be taken with dairy products because calcium interferes with the drug's absorption.3. Fill all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy
The health care system is still fragmented. Your primary care team is likely to have a record of the prescriptions you've gotten from that office, as are the specialists you have seen. However, each isn't likely to know what the others have prescribed. Although pharmacies store records of all prescriptions they fill, one pharmacy may not have access to the records of another and so may not have a complete record of your medications. Keeping an updated list of your medications would be very helpful, especially in emergency situations.4. Be suspicious of supplements
Some of the most serious drug interactions involve prescription medications and supplements. Not only are supplements less likely than FDA-approved medications to be listed in the databases of drug interactions, but health care providers also may not know what supplements people are taking. Since there isn't much evidence that supplements have health benefits, it's best to avoid them unless your doctor prescribes them.5. Go easy on grapefruit juice
While it's true that grapefruit juice affects the metabolism of several drugs, it usually takes about a quart of the juice to make a difference. If you love the juice, ask your pharmacist if any of the drugs you take are affected by it. If they are, you should still be able to enjoy half a grapefruit or an 8-ounce glass of juice daily as long as you wait a few hours after taking the medication.6. Limit alcohol
It isn't a good idea for women to have more than a drink a day in general, and it can be even worse to drink while you're taking drugs. Alcohol increases drowsiness—an intended effect of sleeping pills and a side effect of many antihistamines, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications. It can also irritate the lining of the esophagus and stomach—a special concern if you're taking aspirin, other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or an oral bisphosphonate for low bone density.7. Talk to your pharmacist
When you pick up a prescription, you may find as many as three different sheets or leaflets with your medication, each detailing the conditions the drug is approved to treat, how to take the drug, and the drug's possible side effects. If your first reaction is "too much information!" your next step should be to ask the pharmacist to summarize how to take the drug and what to expect.
Pharmacists have an extensive knowledge of how drugs work, their side effects, and the medications, supplements, and foods they interact with. In fact, you may want to bring all your prescription and nonprescription drugs, as well as any supplements you take, to the pharmacy when you pick up a new prescription. If the pharmacist identifies any possible interactions among your medications, he or she may be able to suggest a schedule for taking them that will minimize the likelihood of interactions.
Your pharmacist may also be willing to talk to your health care team about adjusting a medication dose or finding an alternative that will work better. Some health plans have medication therapy management (MTM), or programs that allow an annual in-depth consultation with a pharmacist. Check yours to see if you qualify for MTM services.