Important Steps to Taking Medications
Review the Prescription
Review your prescription before you have it filled and make sure it is correct. Pay special attention to the name, dose, and when and how often the doctor tells you to take the medicine. Review prescriptions with your physician, nurse, or pharmacist to make sure you’re both reading off the same label. Understand the purpose and importance of taking a specific medicine.
Read the Label
Check that your prescription is filled properly before leaving the pharmacy. It is important to read, understand, and follow the information on the medicine label. Any medicine label tells you some basic facts about the medicine, including:
- Name, address, and phone number of the pharmacy that filled the prescription
- Prescribing physician’s name
- The generic or brand name of the medication
- The dosage
- Storage instructions and expiration date
- Instructions for when and how often to take the medication
Labels may also provide warnings about drug, food, or drink interactions with the medication, and activities and situations to avoid while using it. Ask the pharmacist to review the label to make sure you take the medication exactly as the doctor prescribed.
You want your medications to be as safe and effective as possible. Develop a routine by taking medications at the same time, every day. Store your medications properly in a cool, dry place out of sunlight and out of reach of children and pets. Do not share your medications or take medications prescribed for others.
A Word About Warfarin (And Other Blood Thinners)
Blood thinners—anticoagulants—reduce blood clots. They work on chemical reactions in your body to slow the time it takes to form clots (although they do not break up formed clots). They can stop clots from traveling to your brain and reduce your risk of stroke. Taking these medicines also comes with risks: Because they slow clotting, they can cause severe bleeding in case of injury, during surgery, or during pregnancy. Here’s a primer on certain blood thinners:
Heparin, Low-Molecular-Weight Heparin, and Warfarin
The best known and longest used anticoagulants are heparin, low-molecular-weight heparin (e.g., enoxaparin), and warfarin. Heparin must be injected intravenously and administered in a hospital setting over several days. Frequent blood tests are used to make sure it is working properly. Low-molecular-weight heparin is injected once or twice a day under the skin. It can be self-injected and used both in the hospital and at home. Before heparin or low-molecular-weight heparin therapy concludes, warfarin is usually introduced and given orally. Warfarin therapy also requires regular blood tests to see how the blood is clotting. If warfarin causes the blood to thin too much during bleeding, it may need to be reversed by your doctor.
Apixaban, Dabigatran, Edoxaban, and Rivaroxaban
A newer generation of medicines, such as apixaban, dabigatran, edoxaban, and rivaroxaban, also works to slow your blood’s clotting action. These are prescribed for people who have atrial fibrillation without heart valve disease or who have certain blood clots. Unlike warfarin, these blood thinners do not require regular blood testing, and research indicates a lower risk of bleeding and stroke. A key consideration in using these newer blood thinners is making sure you don’t stop taking them before talking to your doctor.
Talk To Your Health Care Team (Cardiologist, Nurse, or Pharmacist)
It is important to talk to your health care team about which anticoagulant medication is right for you. Talk about all the medicines you take—including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements—because these can interact with anticoagulants. Report any side effects to your health care team. Avoid injury while taking this medicine, and go to the emergency room immediately in such cases. Call your doctor if you notice any bleeding or bruising. Don’t stop taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to, even if you’re engaging in potentially risky behavior such as riding a motorcycle or going out in icy conditions.
Statin Island: How Cholesterol Medications Work
Not everyone can bring cholesterol levels down to a healthy range with diet and exercise. Your health care provider may prescribe medication to achieve a healthier cholesterol level. Statins are usually go-to medications to treat abnormal cholesterol levels. These help your body process and remove cholesterol. They’re most effective in lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. As with any medication, statins can have side effects. The most common are constipation, stomach pain, cramps, or gas. People may also experience muscle pain, weakness, or brown urine. Learn more by getting the Why Cholesterol Matters online brochure from Mended Hearts at www.mendedhearts.org.