Let’s face it. No one wants to be on medication. And these days with practically every other commercial being a drug ad it’s crystal clear that Big Pharma is in the business of pushing prescriptions.
If you feel like Americans take far too many drugs, you’re right. Experts call it polypharmacy. But that’s just a fancy word for overmedicated.
The problem is especially bad for seniors. In fact, researchers say 40 percent of senior adults living in their own homes are on multiple medications.
It’s estimated 25 percent of adults between 65 and 69 are on five or more drugs. And that number skyrockets to 46 percent for folks 70 to 79.
With those kinds of numbers, it’s obvious that some folks are likely taking one or more meds they no longer need. And that comes with risks. Drug side effects can range from annoying to downright dangerous.
But the truth is there are times when a prescription is necessary. And drugs, when used properly, can help us heal or even save our lives.
So how do you avoid taking unnecessary meds, but still get the ones you need? The best approach is to ask lots of question BEFORE you ever fill that prescription.
Got a new prescription? 10 things to ask your doc
These questions can help you make a more informed decision about whether or not you want to take a medication.
Remember a prescription is not an order. You are in charge of your own medical care. And second opinions exist for a reason.
1. Has this drug been proven to treat my specific condition?
Some medications treat more than one condition, blood pressure, and blood sugar, for example. But if you only have blood pressure concerns, a combo drug might be overkill.
This question can be especially important when being treated with an antibiotic. Certain antibiotics treat certain types of infections and not others. Your doctor should run tests to determine what kind of infection you have. And the antibiotic you’re given should be one that’s specifically effective against it.
2. What are the risks of taking this drug?
Almost any medication comes with some risks. And you need to know what those risks are before figuring out if the benefits outweigh them.
No matter how mild the risks, only you get to decide if they’re worth it or not. And if they aren’t mild? You definitely deserve to know that too, even if you choose to take the medication.
3. What are the side effects?
All medications come with some potential side effects. Some of the most common are nausea, sleeplessness, fatigue, and headaches. Other drugs, however, come with far more severe ones and it’s important to know what those are before taking any new med.
4. Are there lifestyle changes or a supplement I could try first?
Sometimes a drug is a right choice. But in other cases, changes to your diet, stress levels, or commitment to exercise could make enough of a difference that a drug is not necessary. And sometimes a supplement can tackle symptoms just as effectively as medication.
If your condition is not acute, your doctor should be willing for you to try a more conservative approach before resorting to a drug.
5. What happens if I don’t take the medication?
Doctors naturally want to fix things. Unfortunately, their training has taught them the best approach is to throw drugs at the problem until it goes away. But all too often the other issues those drugs can trigger aren’t considered.
The truth is not every health concern is urgent. Sometimes, taking a position of watchful waiting is appropriate. So make sure to find out what will happen if you don’t start on a drug right away.
6. Is there an older drug that has the same results?
Doctors are just as guilty of falling for fads as the rest of us. So, when a shiny new drug comes along, they often prescribe it over the old version. But there are some excellent reasons for not jumping on the new drug bandwagon too fast.
A newer drug may not be any better just because it’s new. In fact, there are potentially even unknown side effects that won’t be clear until it’s been on the market for a while.
Plus the latest version is usually the most expensive option. And don’t forget to ask about less costly generic versions too.
7. Will it interact with my other meds or supplements?
While we all would like our doctors to be on top of our medical history, that’s not always going to be the case. A doctor’s day can be hectic, and there’s the potential for overlooking something.
And if you end up seeing a different doctor, say as a walk-in or urgent care patient, the new doc may not have access to your history at all. Remind him or her what you take every day, including supplements, to ensure they’re all still safe to take.
8. How do I take it?
Medication directions can be downright confusing. If the directions are to take a pill twice a day, does that mean morning and evening? Or is it every 12 hours? Should you take it with food? Or is it better on an empty stomach?
Be sure you know exactly how to take the drug should you decide to fill the prescription.
9. Can I crush the pills to make them easier to swallow?
If you have a problem swallowing pills, don’t just crush them up or dissolve them. You need to take some pills whole for them to work correctly.
If you have a hard time swallowing pills, ask your doctor if there’s a smaller version or even a liquid alternative.
10. Do I need to avoid anything if I decide to take this drug?
Medications can sometimes interact with certain foods or drinks. For example, for some drugs to be effective you may need to avoid alcohol, grapefruit or grapefruit juice.
You should always feel in control of your own health. Don’t let anyone—even a trusted doctor—make your decisions for you. Be sure to ask questions before filling your next prescription.