In any given month, nearly half of all Americans take prescription medication. That’s millions of capsules, ounces, and syringes of symptom-fighting assistance... and room for error. To ensure safety, the FDA requires specific information to be featured on approved prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Before opening your next medication, take a minute to check the label and any supplementary documentation for answers to the following questions:

What’s the drug’s purpose? Answering the “why” behind the medication’s “what”, a drug’s purpose statement reveals the symptoms or conditions it will treat. This piece of information is imperative for selecting the medication that targets the issue that you are experiencing.

What’s the active ingredient? Active ingredients are the chemical compounds that take action in your body. Pinpointing the active ingredient helps prevent not only harmful interactions with other medications, but accidental overdoses as well. You may, for example, be fighting allergies at the same time as an arthritic flare-up, but both are commonly treated with acetaminophen-based medication. A quick check for the active ingredient can help you pick a treatment with less risk of overdose.

Are there warnings? Fewer than 10% of people consult medical packaging for warnings. Dictating maximum safe dosages for ages and symptoms, warnings are crucial for preventing dangerous, life-threatening side-effects. They can indicate substances to avoid, such as alcohol or other OTC or Rx drugs, which may create dangerous interactions. Additionally, they can specify activities to avoid, like operating heavy machinery or engaging in high-intensity exercise.

Might I experience side effects? Side effects, or “adverse effects”, are the unwanted secondary symptoms that may arise when treating primary symptoms. Ranging from mild (drowsiness, headache) to severe (organ damage, life-threatening illness), side effects are more common than not. Understanding what could happen over the course of your treatment enables you to be alert for changes in health and seek medical advice as soon as serious warning signs appear.

When in doubt, contact your doctor or pharmacist. A quick call could be paramount in preventing dangerous interactions. Our Johns Hopkins pharmacists are ready to direct or answer your call to keep you safe and in good health! Visit the Johns Hopkins Pharmacy website for more information on available services.

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