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Managing multiple medications.

December 3, 2011

Most people dealing with chronic conditions take medications to control them.  Some of us take medications for more than one chronic condition.  Managing these medications is crucial to our functioning and preventing complications, however it can be difficult to stay on top of things.  My heart condition has caused me to add 9 prescription medications and 2 supplements to my list in the last year.

The number of people taking multiple medications for chronic conditions is rising.  This is in part due to rising rates of conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure associated with obesity and sedentary lifestyle.  Another factor is advances in medicine which help more people survive conditions or injuries that had higher death rates in the past.  We’ve also developed more effective medications for a number of conditions.

People have different ways of helping them to remember to take their medicines at the right time.  I chose to start using pill boxes after my heart attack when the number of medications I take daily more than doubled.  Some keep the bottles lined up in a place where they will see them as they go about their daily routine.  Some have a spouse or significant other to remind them.  However you do it, it is important to find a method that works for you.

Another aspect of managing medications is understanding what your medications do for you plus the risks and benefits they offer.  It can be difficult to retain the hurried explanation most people get at the doctor’s office when handed new prescriptions and some doctors fail to explain much at all.  Doctors receive very little training in adult education principles and offices have moved away from employing nurses to assist with patient teaching.  Whatever the case, sometimes we need to educate ourselves about our medications.  There are a number of resources people can use to find out more about their medicines.  First and foremost is your pharmacist.  Pharmacists have extensive knowledge of medications and their interactions and experience counseling patients.  You may ask to speak to a pharmacist at your local drug store any time you have a question and they should be happy to assist you.

There are also a number of book and online resources to do your own research.   Many people are familiar with the Physician’s Desk Reference.  This is a compilation of the package inserts for medications prescribed in the US.  An advantage of this reference is that it is quite comprehensive.  Disadvantages are that the information is very technical and can be difficult to sort for relevance. Aspects such as side effects are listed with no information as to the proportion of people who experience them.

The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) had a very good reference book, USP DI Advice for the Patient, but as far as I can tell this is no longer being updated.  I see this one at some pharmacies and libraries.

Online resources are the most available sources for current information.  WebMD has an excellent site for looking up drug information.  This site is written in lay language, so will be easier to understand for those without medical background. also offers a comprehensive, free online reference.

For medical professionals or people with enough background to understand the information, Epocrates Online is an excellent resource.  You have to register to use the site, but the drug reference is free.  Other services can be added for a fee.  A feature of this site which I have found to be very useful is the Interaction Check.  You can add all your medications to this and detailed information about possible interactions is given.  Another feature I like is the Patient Education section in each drug monograph.  This is written in lay language and is also available in spanish.

There are lots of tools out there to help with managing medication.  I have only named a few in this brief article.  If you have other suggestions, please feel free to comment.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Rima McQuestion permalink
    December 6, 2011 1:03 am

    I just wanted to point out that also offers an Interaction Checker:
    I am really pleased that you point out the importance of double checking your medications this way. I have been doing this ever since I was placed on two medications with dizziness as a side affect, then was not able to stand up or sit up without feeling sick until they were out of my system.
    I have experienced way too many bad situations with doctors and have heard them from others, as well. I do not view any doctor or pharmacist as though they are in charge of my health care. They are a tool, nothing more. It is my job to educate myself as much as I can in order to help facilitate a successful outcome. In other words, I recommend that you do not ever hesitate to get a second opinion or even third, if you do not feel the first one is correct

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