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Q&A: Making Sure Medications Work

Four questions concerning medications


National Institutes of Health NIH/National Institute on Aging

Based on content from the NIH/National Institute on Aging publication, “Safe Use of Medicines.”

Here are four common questions people ask concerning their prescriptions

Q:  I’ve been taking the same prescription medicine for years. Even though I’m careful to take the same amount as always, the medicine is not working like it did in the past. What is happening?

A:  As you age, normal changes happen in the body. You lose water and muscle tone. Also, your kidneys and liver may not pass the drugs as quickly through your system as when you were younger. This means that many medicines act differently in older people. Medicine may take longer to leave your system. Talk to your doctor if you think your medicine is not working as it should.

Q:  Why should I talk to my doctor about the remedies, vitamins and over-the-counter medicines I take, along with my regular prescriptions?

A:  It is very important to tell your doctor about all the medicines you take. Taking some OTC medicines with your prescription drugs can be downright dangerous. For example, you should not take aspirin if you are on Coumadin (warfarin) for heart problems. Some OTC drugs can lead to serious problems if used too often or with certain other drugs. Combining drugs without talking to your doctor could make you sick.

Q:  I’m getting sick to my stomach a lot since I started my new pills. Some days I feel so sick I think about not taking the medicine. What should I do?

A:  Talk to your doctor about side effects before you stop taking any medicines. Your doctor may have tips that can help, like eating a light snack with your pills. You may want to talk to your doctor about switching to a new medicine.

Q: What does it mean to take medicines on an empty stomach?

A:  Taking medicine on an empty stomach means that you should take your pills two hours before or after you eat. Here are two ways to do this.

  • Eat first and take the pills two  hours later.
 If you eat breakfast at 8 a.m., wait for two  hours or until 10 a.m.  before you take your pills.
  • Take the pills first and eat two hours later.
 If you take your pills at 8 a.m., wait until 10 a.m. to eat. In both cases, your stomach will be empty enough for the pills to work.

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