6 questions to ask a pharmacist
While you may typically think of a doctor as the main resource for any questions you have about your health, a pharmacist can also be a great source of knowledge, especially when you have questions about medications and supplements.
Medication labels can often be difficult to understand and may leave you with several concerns, such as how the drug may interact with your lifestyle. Pharmacists are experts when it comes to medication and can answer any questions you have.
Here are several examples of questions you can ask a pharmacist.
When should I take this medication?
Different medications often require different circumstances to work. For example, progestin-only birth control pills, such as norethindrone (Camila), need to be taken at the same time every day. And nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve), should not be taken on an empty stomach.
A pharmacist can advise you on the best way to take your medication, which can be important for ensuring the drug works properly and reduces side effects.
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What is this medication called?
Medications often have two different names: their generic name and their brand name. A generic medication is an exact copy of the active drug in a brand-name medication.
Sometimes, a generic medication can have several brand names or be made by multiple companies. A pharmacist can help you understand which brand of a particular generic medication you are taking.
The FDA requires generic drugs to have the same function as their brand-name counterparts, so generic drugs are just as effective. Your pharmacist can tell you whether there is a generic version of your medication — and do not hesitate to ask them about any possible savings, since generics generally tend to be more cost-effective.
What should I avoid when taking this medication?
Sometimes, a medication leaflet lists only some of the possible drug interactions. The term “drug interaction” refers to a reaction between your medication and another substance, such as a different medication or supplement you’re also taking.
A pharmacist can review your specific medications and supplements to see whether they have any interactions with each other.
If you’re starting a new medication, it’s important to check with the prescribing doctor or a pharmacist about whether you should avoid taking any other drugs or supplements during your treatment with the new medication.
Even natural supplements containing herbs can interact with prescription medications. For example, St John’s Wort is an herbal supplement that often interacts negatively with some medications.
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How should I store my medication?
Some medications are sensitive to temperature, light, and moisture. They may stop being effective if you do not store them correctly. For example, you may need to keep diabetes medication like insulin in the fridge to prevent it from becoming ineffective.
A pharmacist will inform you where it is best to store your medication.
How can I dispose of my medication?
Disposing of medications can sometimes be complicated. For example, unopened and expired medications must be disposed of at specific locations.
You can ask a pharmacist about where you should dispose of medication if necessary. They may tell you about the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) flush list, which is a list of medications that are safe for you to dispose of by flushing them down the toilet.
Also, if your medications require needles to administer, such as insulin, you may have to collect containers from the pharmacy for the used needles. A pharmacist will be able to tell you whether this is necessary.
Are there particular side effects I need to be aware of?
Any medication has a risk of side effects. Although most side effects are not anything to worry about, it can help to ask a pharmacist about what you can expect.
They can tell you the signs to look for that may require medical attention. This will help you determine whether any side effects you notice are reasons to seek medical attention or just a common side effect that will pass.
The pharmacist may even be able to share certain tips to help ease some mild side effects. For example, putting fish oil capsules in the freezer can reduce the unpleasant aftertaste.
Do I need a vaccination if I am traveling?
A pharmacist can help you understand how to protect your health while traveling — for example, which vaccinations you should receive. You may even be able to get some of these vaccinations from a pharmacist.
They may ask if you have any preexisting health conditions, as well as where you are traveling to and what you will be doing on your trip. For example, if you are going to a rural area, you may need more vaccinations.
When should you speak with a doctor?
If you are taking prescription medications and they do not help relieve the symptoms they are supposed to, you should make an appointment with a doctor. A pharmacist cannot change a prescription if it is not working.
Pharmacists can provide you with valuable information about your medications, such as:
- how to dispose of medications
- the best time to take your medications
- what side effects to expect
They can also help you protect your health while you travel by providing vaccinations.
But if you notice that a medication is not working the way you expect or you experience severe side effects, you will need to contact a doctor.
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- Before you travel. (n.d.). https://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/advice/general-travel-health-advice/before-you-travel
- Birth control pill. (n.d.). https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-pill
- Drug disposal: FDA’s flush list for certain medications. (2020). https://www.fda.gov/drugs/disposal-unused-medicines-what-you-should-know/drug-disposal-fdas-flush-list-certain-medicines#FlushList
- Gardiner P, et al. (2008). Herbal and dietary supplement-drug interactions in patients with chronic illnesses. https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2008/0101/p73.html.
- Stop the fish oil aftertaste. (n.d.). https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/treatment/complementary-therapies/supplements-and-vitamins/stop-fish-oil-aftertaste