Take Charge of Your Medications!

– Posted in: Medications

Medications are an essential part of treatment for mental disorders. But medications have uncomfortable side effects and can interact badly with other drugs.

Your doctor doesn’t always know of these right off the top of his head. It’s up to you to take charge of your medications to make sure that your medications aren’t making you sicker!

You need to know everything you can about your medications, including what their common and dangerous side effects are, and if you take more than one drug, whether they interact negatively.

If you see more than one doctor, and it’s probable that you do, each one can prescribe medications without taking into account what the others have prescribed if you do not make it your responsibility to ask questions.

And each drug has side effects that indicate that something is going wrong. If you take multiple medications, what is a dangerous side effect for one may be a normal side effect for another. You need to know this information!

In this post I’m going to show you how to:

  • Find online information about your medications
  • Note each medication’s side effects and drug interactions
  • Build a data sheet to take with you to your doctor’s appointments
  • Talk to your doctor about your medications

My Mother died from conflicting medications!

This was brought home to me after my Mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage caused by a fall while out walking. She took many medications for her heart condition, kidney condition, diabetes and other small ailments, prescribed by four different doctors.

She had been feeling “funny” for quite some time, but not bad enough to visit her doctors. Upon checking her medications after her death, I found that there were some major conflicts among them, including one that accelerated the action of the blood thinner that had a role in the cerebral hemorrhage taking her life!

Find online information about your medications

First, you need to check out the specifications of all the drugs you take, not just the psychiatric ones. There are many good references online. The ones I use are: 

Although each one of these sites intends to be complete, I find that often one will have a little bit of information that the others don’t have. So I use all three to crosscheck the others.

Note each medication’s side effects and drug interactions

Get a notepad and a pen and divide the page into columns for common side effects, dangerous side effects, drug interactions and notes. 

Each website displays information differently, so you will have to scroll until you find the information you need. Write down the side effects and drug interactions for each of your drugs. In the notes section, write down anything that you think is important. For example, one of my medications, Abilify, causes involuntary chewing motions that drive me crazy. That would be something I would put in the notes column.

As you fill in your sheet, you will start noticing that some of the common side effects of one drug are listed as dangerous side effects of another. Mark these as something to ask your doctor about when you next see them. If any of your drugs are listed as interacting negatively, I recommend that you contact your doctor(s) immediately.

Build a data sheet to take with you to your doctor’s appointments

You will want to distill your notes into a one-page document that you can take with you to your doctor’s appointments. I use a spreadsheet in Excel, but you can just line a sheet of paper and write the information in.

Below is what my data sheet looks like (click on it enlarge it). I also have a smaller version that I carry in my wallet. I will gladly share this spreadsheet or a printable version of it with you on request. Just email me using the Contact tab at the top of the page.

How to talk to your doctor about your medications

When I first started bringing my data sheet to appointments, I was afraid that my doctors would be insulted or defensive that I was checking up on them. Instead, I have found that doctors appreciate my vigilance, and especially my data sheet. All my doctors make it a part of my chart.

If you have any concerns about side effects or drug interactions, be sure to write that on your data sheet to help you remember your questions. Do not be afraid to ask about these. I have found that being prepared like this makes the doctor slow down and listen to you.

When the doctor is prescribing new medication, ask specifically if the new drug’s side effects will exacerbate any side effects on your data sheet, making them intolerable. Ask specifically if the new drug will not interact negatively with any of the ones you are currently taking. This is especially important for your General Practitioner, who usually will not have the specifics of your psychiatric drugs at her fingertips.

What do you think?

  • Would keeping track of all your drugs make you more comfortable or more anxious?
  • Do you keep track of your drugs’ side effects and interactions? 
  • What has been your experience talking to your doctor about your drugs?

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Last update: January 1, 2009

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3 comments… add one
Ajlouny November 9, 2008, 9:23 pm

I think it’s really important to do some research on all of your medication before committing yourself to taking them daily. You never know what the long term effect will be or if the combination can be lethal.

Mike November 10, 2008, 2:28 pm

I agree that it’s essential to be a well-informed patient and do good research on your medications. It is especially important if you take medications for several different ailments — the expected side effects of one can be the dangerous side effects of another. If you find that there is a potential conflict, ask your doctor before taking the medication!

Any physician worth their salt will explain the benefits and side effects of a prescribed medication, and they will take all your other medications into account when prescribing. If they don’t, get another doctor!

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