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Amber Racine
Amber Racine
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Understanding Prescription Medication Labels – A Key to Managing Your Health

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Whenever you a prescribed a medication, you must be sure that you understand the key sections of the medication’s label in order to ensure your safety.

First, you should understand why you are taking the medication. Have a conversation with your doctor to make sure that the medication is necessary and to ensure that you fully appreciate the ins and outs of the drug and your prescription – the dosage, the scheduling for consuming the medication and any potential side effects that you should be looking for. Following this conversation, you should also consider having a discussion with the pharmacist – to make sure that the prescription s/he is providing is exactly what your doctor prescribed. A pharmacist may also be able to provide information on a low-cost generic of the medication, so long as your doctor has indicated that a generic version is safe for you to take.

Now that you have the medication in hand, it is important to take the time to read the entire label for the medication yourself. The typeset on many medication labels is very small, but the labels can be found, and enlarged, on the internet by visiting the FDA’s drug information website, at: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cder/drugsatfda/. As you will discover, medication labels are very long and often divided into sections. Each section is important for different reasons and should be reviewed, but the vital sections of the label include the following:

Uses: This section describes the symptoms, conditions and/or diseases the drug is intended to treat. This section should conform to the discussion that you had with your doctor and/or pharmacist as to why you are to take this medication. There may also be a Purposes section of the label that explains what the drug’s goal is – for example, pain relief.

Directions: This is the section of the label that explains exactly how you should take the medication, including how much and how often. It is important that these directions match the directions you received from your doctor and/or pharmacist. If there is any discrepancy, call your doctor to clear it up.

Warnings: This section warns of potential side effects, from those that are considered minor to those as serious as heart failure and death. There may also be a Precautions section that warns of additional side effects. This section should be closely monitored every time you fill a prescription to check for newly reported side effects that may affect your health. If you experience any side effects or adverse symptoms that you believe are connected to your use of a medication (even if they are not listed on the medical label) you should report them to your doctor and to the FDA.

Again, you should make every effort to read the entire label for any medications that you are taking, including over-the-counter medications. Starting with these three sections may prevent you from suffering an adverse reaction or side effect to your medicine. While this list is not medical advice and by no means exhaustive, remembering to review these three label sections can help you manage your health.