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How should my prescribed medication be labelled?

The label on your medicine will repeat the instructions that your doctor or healthcare professional wrote out on your prescription. The pharmacist will stick the label on the medicine packaging before giving it to you.

The information on your medicine's dispensing label usually includes:

  • your name 
  • the name and address of the pharmacy that dispensed your medicine 
  • the date your medicine is dispensed 
  • the name of your medicine 
  • the dose you should take, how to take it and how often  
  • the amount of medicine in the container and the strength  
  • if necessary, any cautions or warning messages that apply to your medicine

Your medicine's name

Your medicine may have two names:

  • the brand name (manufacturer's name) 
  • the generic name for the active ingredient in your medicine (scientific name)

If your prescription shows the medicine's brand name, the label should show both the brand name and the generic name.

The strength

Some medicines are available in different strengths. The label on your prescribed medicine will repeat the strength on your prescription.

The dose

The label on your prescribed medicine will repeat the dosage instructions from your prescription. In some cases, the pharmacist might make the instructions clearer for you. The label tells you how to take or use your medicine. For example:

  • take one tablet four times a day
  • take one 5ml spoonful four times a day

Extra instructions

The pharmacist may also include other instructions on your medicine label.

Some examples are:

  • shake the bottle 
  • store in a cool place 
  • discard 28 days after opening
  • do not use after a certain date

Cautions and warning messages

All prescribed medicines should say "Keep out of reach of children" on the label. This isn’t a legal requirement, but is a recommendation from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society as good practice. 

All liquid medicines for external use, such as a cream to go on your skin, should also say "For external use only".

Depending on the type of medicine, cautions or warning messages may be added on a separate label.

Patient information leaflets (PILs)

As well as the dispensing label, your medicine should come with a PIL produced by the manufacturer.

If you don't have the PIL, you can find a copy on the electronic Medicines Compendium (EMC). You can do this by clicking on the name of your medicine from the alphabetised list and then clicking on the "Patient Information" icon near the top of the page.

Read the answers to more questions about medicines.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 11/03/2015

Next review due: 28/02/2018