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9 Top Medication Mistakes to Watch Out For
© 2019 Health Realizations, Inc. Update

American adults take an average of over 11 prescription drugs every year. For those 65 and over, that rises to more than 31 a year. Even children aged 0-18 take nearly four medications annually, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

A common mistake parents make? Giving their kids medication using a kitchen spoon. When administering medicine always use the dropper, dosing cup or syringe that came with the drug, and measure it carefully.

This helps explain why the rate of adverse drug reactions is so high in the United States. Even under the best circumstances, drugs carry risks. But often mistakes are made that push the risk even higher.

Why You Have to be Careful When Taking Medications

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that, in 1994, adverse drug reactions were between the fourth and sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

More recently, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that one in four patients are plagued by side effects from prescription medications. Of the patients who experienced side effects (out of over 1,200 patients), 13 percent were serious (internal bleeding, low blood pressure, etc.). Another 39 percent were preventable or potentially treatable, such as a patient accidentally receiving a drug he or she is allergic to.

Other studies have also found that adverse drug reactions (ADRs) represent a serious risk to Americans. Findings include:

  • An estimated 5 percent of hospital admissions -- over 1 million per year -- are due to drug side effects.

  • ADRs were directly responsible for the hospital admission 3.8 percent of the time, yet 57 percent of them were not recognized by the physician at the time of admission.

  • 18.6 percent of all drugs prescribed prior to hospital admission were contraindicated.

  • Up to 88 percent of ADR-related hospitalizations in the elderly are preventable.

  • Nursing home residents suffer 350,000 ADRs a year, according to the Institute of Medicine.

Unintentional poisoning deaths from prescription drugs have also been on the rise for years, and hospitalizations due to overdoses of prescription opioids, sedatives and tranquilizers increased 65 percent from 1999-2006, according to a report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Unfortunately, many people do not take the risks of prescription drugs seriously, and mistakenly believe that because they were prescribed by a doctor they are always safe. In reality, the risk of adverse drug reactions can be very high, which is why it’s so important to make sure you’re not making these top medication mistakes.

9 Top Medication Mistakes to Watch Out For

1. Using the Wrong Dose

This is especially important for the elderly and children; drugs affect these age groups differently, so the doctor must be sure to give the correct dosage. For instance, Valium will remain in an older person's body twice as long as in a young person. An elderly person is also more likely to misread a prescription label and take the wrong number of pills, or take them more or less often than they should.

Among children, many dosages are based on weight, which means you must know your child’s weight accurately in order to get the proper dosage. Avoid estimating or guessing at your child’s weight when it comes to medications dosages.

2. Measuring Mishaps

When measuring out liquid medications, do not use a kitchen spoon, as the dosage will be way off. Only use the provided dosing cup, syringe or dropper that comes with the medication, and then be sure you have measured carefully to the appropriate level.

3. Not Reading the Fine Print or Asking About Side Effects

Many people are not aware of a drug's potential side effects, even as they are taking it. A study on over-the-counter and prescription painkillers, for instance, found that 54 percent of those surveyed did not know of the drugs' potential side effects. Further, of those who had experienced side effects, 30 percent did not consider themselves at risk of them.

Ask your doctor about a drug's potential side effects before you take it. Then, ask your pharmacist to double-check. When you bring the drug home, read the label and information booklet it comes with, paying special attention to any warnings and side effects. You can also search for drug side effects using the Internet or a trusted guidebook like The Pill Book.

4. Asking for Antibiotics When You Have a Virus

When you visit the doctor, don’t pressure them to prescribe antibiotics for yourself or your kids if they’re not necessary. According to the CDC, doctors will prescribe antibiotics 62 percent of the time if parents expect them, compared to only 7 percent of the time they don’t.

The problem with antibiotics is that they are often prescribed to treat viruses -- against which they are useless. Viruses like upper respiratory infections, measles, mumps, chickenpox, flu, and gastroenteritis are all viral infections, which antibiotics do nothing for.

Are you taking more than one medication? Be sure you’ve asked your doctor specifically whether any drug interactions are possible between the medications you’re taking. Also be sure you have them organized so you don’t mix up dosages or frequencies.

Using antibiotics unnecessarily not only kills off beneficial bacteria in your body, it is also leading to the increase of antibiotic-resistand bacteria in the United States and globally. Antibiotics are also linked to side effects in their own right, including tendon rupture, allergic reactions, diarrhea, upset stomach and vaginal yeast infections in women. More than 140,000 people visit emergency rooms each year due to bad reactions to antibiotics, so only take them when absolutely necessary.

5. Not Watching Out for Drug Interactions

It’s important that your doctor is aware of your medication history and drugs you are currently taking -- including vitamins, herbs and over-the-counter meds -- to reduce your risk of suffering from a drug interaction.

The more drugs you take (and this includes prescription, over-the-counter, vitamins and herbs), the greater your risk of experiencing an adverse drug reaction becomes. The risk increases extremely if you are taking four or more different drugs.

 You can ask your doctor specifically: "Will this new medication interact with X, Y or Z?" (the medications you're already taking). Later when you pick up your prescription, check with the pharmacist to see whether the drug interacts with anything you're already taking. Be aware also that some drugs interact with food, beverages and alcohol, so you check with your doctor and pharmacist to be sure.

In terms of prescription drugs, there are several categories that are especially risky when it comes to interactions, including:

  • Anticonvulsants

  • Antibiotics

  • Certain cardiac drugs such as digoxin, warfarin, and amiodarone

6. Stopping Medication in the Middle of Treatment or Otherwise Not Following Prescription

Certain medications can cause withdrawal symptoms when stopped abruptly. Others, like antibiotics, may not be effective if you don’t finish the entire treatment (with antibiotics, if you stop too soon, some bacteria may survive and re-infect you, becoming even harder to kill off the next time).

Misusing medications can have some serious results. A missed dose of glaucoma medication, for instance, can result in optic nerve damage or blindness. And overusing medications runs the risk of overdosing or becoming dependent, where you must take more and more of the medication to feel its effects, or you become addicted to it.

So anytime you’re prescribed a medication, be sure to follow the treatment instructions carefully. If you have concerns and want to stop taking the drug early (such as if you’re experiencing side effects or want a different dosage), check with your physician first to make sure there are no risks involved.

7. Storing Medications Improperly

Certain medications are very sensitive to heat, humidity, light, oxygen and moisture. If a medication is stored improperly, even for a short time, the medication may break down, rendering it less effective. Further, when medications degrade they may not be able to dissolve properly, and won't be able to be used correctly by your body.

So be sure to read the medication's label and store accordingly. You will find that the bathroom (where many people store their medications) is probably the last place they should be kept. A cool kitchen cabinet (out of reach of children or pets) may be a better choice, and be aware that some drugs do need to be kept refrigerated. 

8. Taking a Prescription Blindly

Doctors are only human, and they make human mistakes. They may mistakenly write down the wrong medication on their prescription pad, or the wrong dose or frequency. Pharmacists, too, can make mistakes in what they fill.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine study, 39 percent of the side effects experienced by patients were preventable. Out of these cases:

  • Patients were given the wrong drug 45 percent of the time

  • Patients were prescribed the wrong dose 10 percent of the time

  • Patients were told to take the drug too frequently 10 percent of the time

So make sure you double-check the prescription paper you're given, as well as the bottle of pills you pick up. Make sure the slip of paper your doctor hands you is for the medication he or she said it was, and at the same dosage. If you notice any discrepancies, ask your doctor.

If you're picking up a new drug from the pharmacy, you can check The Pill Book to make sure the pill matches up with the prescription. (The book also contains pictures of pills so you can double-check that the ones you’ve been given are the right ones.)

9. Taking Too Many Medications

Prescription drug use is on the rise in the United States, and not just among seniors or those in middle age. Children were actually the leading growth category for the pharmaceutical industry in 2009.

Unfortunately, many prescription drugs are vastly over-prescribed for conditions that often can be relieved or prevented through natural lifestyle modifications. So before you decide to take a drug, or give one to your child, be sure it is actually necessary. Ask about natural alternatives, risks and what may happen if you don’t take the drug (for instance, will you get better on your own anyway?).

Also, be sure you are taking the healthy lifestyle steps to stay as healthy, and drug-free, as possible, including: 

  • Eating plenty of health-promoting foods and limiting junk foods

  • Getting enough sleep every night

  • Keeping stress to a minimum

  • Exercising regularly

As you get and stay healthy naturally, you’ll often find that prescription and over-the-counter drugs are only ancillary to your overall well-being -- and what really makes you feel great is leading a healthy lifestyle.

Again, not sure what your pills should look like? Compare them with a trusted source like The Pill Book to be sure you have been given the correct medication.

If you are unsure or have any question please call to discuss and make an appointment today.

Your health or health of a loved one may depend on your concern and immediate action.


American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 38, Issue 5 , Pages 517-524

Medical News Today

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