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12 Questions to Ask Your Pharmacist Before You Take Your Prescription

Older man talking to his pharmacist
October 28, 2014 (Updated: January 15, 2019)
Lily Moran

Every year, thousands of Americans are hospitalized for drug reactions and interactions. Some of those reactions are fatal, and none of them are pleasant.

So while a dozen questions for a pharmacist may seem like a lot, it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry.

Advising patients is part of a pharmacist’s job, so please don’t hesitate to ask questions. If you don’t understand an answer or if something doesn’t make sense, say so.

Here’s what I tell I anyone who asks—when it comes to health issues, protect yourself by being proactive. Ask questions; write down the answers.

Drugs can improve your health, but they can also make you very, very sick. Get your information from professionals and follow it carefully.

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Just because Aunt Mary washes down her thyroid medication with a glass of milk doesn’t mean you should, too. (Calcium—whether from dairy products or supplements—interferes with thyroid meds and should be avoided for four hours after taking thyroid medication.)

So, with those thoughts in mind, here is a list of twelve questions you can take to the pharmacy with you.

  • What’s the name of the drug I’m being given and what conditions is it prescribed for? This is simply a way to double-check that the drug is not something you’re already taking and that it is appropriate for your health condition.
  • What does the drug primarily do? If you’re going to put something in your body, you should have an idea of what it’s for. If your doctor didn’t explain how the drug works, now’s the time to ask.
  • Is there a generic version? On a tight budget? Doctors often prescribe brand-name drugs, but you can save money with generics. Ask the pharmacist about these lower-cost options.
  • Is this drug safe for me to take? If you only go to one pharmacy, there should be a computerized record of drugs you’re taking. But if this is a new pharmacy, let the pharmacist know the names of other drugs you take, as well as any over-the-counter medications, vitamins, herbs, and any other nutritional supplements. Mention your other medical conditions, including pregnancy or trying to become pregnant, diabetes, heart disease, and so on to the pharmacist. And tell them about any bad drug reactions you’ve had in the past.
  • On refills, should I expect the medication to look the same each time? Sometimes drug manufacturers change the color or shape of a medication. Asking this question can save you the inconvenience of getting a refill home, then realizing it looks nothing like earlier prescriptions, and wondering what’s going on.
  • When and how do I take it—on an empty stomach or with food? Do I take it with water? What about milk or fruit juice? Do I need to avoid alcohol with this drug? Should it be taken at the same time each day?
  • Is there anything I should not do while taking this drug, like drive a car? Quite a few drugs can make people dizzy or drowsy. You’ll want to know that before taking it.
  • Do I take this drug on an as-needed basis or regularly?
  • How long should I take this drug for? Do I take it until the bottle is empty or until my symptoms are gone?
  • How should I store and handle this drug? Does it need refrigeration? And are there any special handling requirements? For instance, some drugs should not be handled by a pregnant person, because they might affect the baby.
  • If you’re allergic to any substances, ask if the drug contains that substance or any other common allergens, like eggs, nuts, wheat, or dairy.
  • What side effects are common with this drug and when are they likely to occur?This is a very important question, because side effects sometimes don’t occur for weeks or even months after beginning a drug.

Why so cautious? Doctors aren’t perfect. They make mistakes, too, and you don’t want to be one of them. This list may seem long, but if it keeps you safe and out of the hospital, then I think you’ll agree it’s well worth it.

One last tip: your prescription may come with directions and warnings stapled to the bag, on the bottle it comes in, or as an insert in the packaging. It’s well worth your time and safety to read that information.

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