Knowing what to discuss with your doctor when they prescribe medicines for you will help you understand more about your medicines. It can help you feel more involved in the decision about which medicine is best for you and your condition. This will help you to get the best out of your medicines.
To get the best results from your medicines, it’s important that you use them properly, as the prescriber intended. You need to:
- Take your medicine at the right times and in the right way.
- Look out for side effects that are bothering you.
- See whether your medicines are making you feel better or worse. If you feel worse or feel that they are having no effect, tell your doctor or pharmacist as soon as possible.
- For medicines that you have to take regularly, make sure you always have enough, especially at weekends, public holidays and when you are on holiday.
Always use medicines according to the instructions on the label on the packet, or as your health professional advised you. Read the patient information leaflet that is provided with the medicine, as it may answer some of the questions you have.
If your medicines aren’t used in the right way, they could do you harm. Don’t use them beyond their expiry dates, and don't use other people's prescription medicines.
If you’re ever unsure about how to use a medicine or you would like to ask a question about a medicine that has been prescribed for you, or one that you have bought over the counter, you can ask your local pharmacist. You don’t need to book an appointment.
Find out more about how your local pharmacist can help you.
What to ask about your medicines
This is a list of things that you may want to ask your doctor before they prescribe a medicine for you. A pharmacist or other health professional may also be able to answer these questions. You may like to print these out and take them with you for your appointment.
- Why am I being prescribed this medicine?
- Does this new prescription mean I should stop taking any other medicines that I am taking?
- How will the medicine affect the condition that I have?
- How and when should I take my medicine?
- How long should I take my medicine for?
- When will my medicine start working?
- How can I tell if my medicine is working?
- Are there any foods, drinks or other medicines to avoid while I’m taking this medicine?
- What are the potential side effects of my medicine?
- What should I do if I think I have a significant side effect?
- What should I do if I miss a dose of my medicine?
- How do I get more of this medicine if it runs out?
- Who can I ask if I want any more advice or support when taking this medicine?
If the doctor wants to prescribe a medicine for you that may affect your daily life and which you think might cause difficulties for you, you should discuss this with them. They may be able to prescribe a different medicine that is easier for you to take.
What to tell your doctor when they write your prescription
- List any other medicines and pills that you are taking or have taken, even those bought over-the-counter, including vitamins and supplements. Write them down before your appointment or bring the packaging with you to your appointment.
- Give details of your symptoms, including when they started and what makes them better or worse.
- Tell them if you have any allergies.
- Say whether you would prefer the medicine in liquid or tablet form – for example, if you have difficulty swallowing tablets.
- Let your doctor know if you are thinking about stopping a medicine, or are not taking a medicine you have been prescribed.
- If you’re unsure about how to use your medicine, ask. For example, some people find a particular type of asthma inhaler difficult to use.
- Tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you can’t take your medicine because you can’t open the packaging, for example because you have arthritis, or if it is difficult to take medicines at the same time each day.
- Say if you are worried or concerned about side effects that you may be experiencing.
What to discuss with your pharmacist
- Check whether you can continue to use over-the-counter medicines such as painkillers or indigestion tablets. In some cases these can affect your prescribed medicines.
- Check how the medicine should be stored and for how long. For example, some liquid medicines need to be kept in the fridge.
- If you have difficulty remembering when to take your medicines, ask your pharmacist to write you a daily timetable.
- Check how and when the medicine should be taken. For example, whether it should be taken at the same time, before or after meals and whether certain foods affect the medicine.
Common medicines questions
There are many medicines available to buy over the counter, which means you don’t need a prescription for them, but you still need to take care when using them. Pharmacist Sunita Behl answers below some frequently asked questions about medicines you might have at home.
Are there any differences between brand-name medicines and their generic equivalents? For example, between Nurofen and ibuprofen?
"There's absolutely no difference in the active ingredients. The ibuprofen in a brand-name medicine is the same as the ibuprofen in a non-branded one. If you're not sure about what's in a brand-name medicine, read the active ingredients, which will be listed on the packaging. You can always ask your pharmacist for help."
I’m not sure about giving medicine to my children. Can you help?
"Always ask the advice of a pharmacist if you are unsure about how to use medicines for your children. This is really important. If children are given the wrong medicine or the wrong amount, this is likely to affect them more than adults.
“I recommend you use the children's version of medicines where possible, because the amount of the active ingredients they contain is specific to a child’s body. Children may also find it easier to take medicine in liquid form. These days you can get sachets that contain the liquid, which are great for when you’re out and about.
"With my own young children I use an oral syringe to give them liquid medicines. You can accurately measure out smaller doses, and it’s easy to get in their mouth without spilling any.
Never give a child aspirin because it may contribute to Reye’s syndrome, a rare and potentially fatal childhood condition.
"Take care when using an oral syringe to give medicines to children, in order to avoid choking. The best way is to gently trickle the medicine down the inside of the child's mouth."
Learn more in Medicines for children.
I have trouble opening child-proof containers. Can I get my medicines in other containers?
"Some types of packaging can be difficult to open. Your pharmacist may be able to dispense your medicines in different containers. Ask them what they can offer. Child safety is the biggest concern, so always store medicines in a place where your children can’t see them or get at them."
Where should I store medicines?
"The bathroom cabinet is one of the worst places to keep medicines, because it can be warm and damp. Medicines should always be kept in a cool, dark place, because exposure to heat and light can make them less effective. The best place is a lockable cabinet out of sight and reach of children, away from heat and moisture.
"Some medicines need to be kept in the fridge. If this is the case, it will be written on the packet or instruction leaflet. Again, keep these out of sight and reach of children, perhaps at the back of the fridge.
"It’s best to keep medicines in their original packaging, with the instruction leaflet still inside the packet. Be aware that medicines, like food, have an expiry date. Never take a medicine after it has expired.
Is it possible to get medicine labels and instructions in large print for old people or the visually impaired?
"Often, the manufacturer may be able to provide large-print instructions, particularly for medicines for older people, or conditions linked to visual impairment, such as diabetes.
“Your pharmacist can also put large-print labels on the medicine itself if you ask. You can always ask them to talk you through the details with you."
I feel my medicines aren't working for me. Who can I speak to?
"If you have any concerns about your medicines, always speak to your GP or pharmacist for advice. Often, it will be easier to see your pharmacist than your GP and if they think that you need to go and see your doctor, they will advise you to do that. There’s no need to make an appointment, and they may be available in the evenings and at weekends.
"Pharmacists are experts who are qualified to give advice on the safe use of medicines. Your pharmacist may suggest a medicines use review, which is a detailed review of all the medicines you are taking, whether prescribed or bought over-the-counter. The feedback is sent to your GP who can then take any necessary action."
If I complete a course of medicines and have some left over, what should I do with them?
"Never throw unused or expired medicines in the rubbish bin or flush them down the toilet. Children can take the medicine from the bin, and medicines that have been flushed down a toilet could end up in the drinking water system or harm the environment. Take unwanted medicines to a pharmacy, where they can be disposed of safely."
Find more common medicines questions and answers.