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Medication Do's and Dont's

By Francisco Renick, M.D.

Taking a pill when your head hurts, a couple more when you are suffering from heartburn or recommending a certain medication to someone just because "it worked wonders" for you. If this sounds all too familiar you may be one of those people who practice one (or all) of these habits and therefore might be interested in learning about the do's and don’ts when it comes to medications.

Pharmaceutical drugs, or medicines, are chemical substances developed by laboratories after performing extensive research and clinical trials in order to treat an specific medical condition. While researching their mechanism of action, laboratories have found substances that act over different areas or structures in the organism with the goal of improving a certain health condition in those who take them. However, each condition results from an specific cause or process and therefore, every physician prescribes the ideal medication for each case, always evaluating each patient on an individual basis.

With this in mind, let's clear up some of the most common questions, so you may keep this information in mind before taking any medication:

1) What was prescribed to you will also work on another person with the same condition? Yes and no. Yes, because each drug is prescribed for an specific purpose, for example, to decrease blood pressure and thereby, it will always have that effect on whomever takes it. No, because each medication has specific indications and contraindications and, since each case must be assessed individually, it may be right for you but not for another person. Therefore, you should NEVER recommend a medication to another person since you don't know its contraindications and, on the contrary, you may be harming the person who takes it.

2) Can pills be split? It is best to purchase the exact dosage prescribed by your doctor and take it this way, thereby preventing that through pill splitting, one piece may be larger than the other, that any fragments may be lost or that it will get contaminated.

3) Why must the entire antibiotics treatment always be completed? Antibiotics are drugs that are used to treat infections caused by bacteria and other organisms, with the goal of eliminating them. They are designed to work in the body at constant levels and therefore, they must be taken on a regular schedule for the number of days prescribed by your doctor, in order to eliminate the infection completely. In many cases, even though the antibiotic was prescribed for 7 days, by the third day the person reports feeling much better, causing them to be tempted to abandon treatment. However, this improvement only means that the medication is working and not that the treatment is over. On the contrary, if the entire antibiotic treatment is not completed, the bacteria or organisms will not be fully destroyed, causing a relapse that will likely be greater in strength and resistance. Therefore, always make sure to complete the entire treatment with antibiotics as prescribed by your physician and remember to never mix them with alcohol.

4) Is it safe to purchase any drug or natural product? It is as long as it states on its box that it has all the necessary permits from Costa Rica's Ministerio de Salud. If not taking it might be extremely dangerous for your health. The Ministerio de Salud is in charge of checking and evaluating all therapeutic products that are sold in the country, their components and side effects in order to ensure that there is enough valid and reliable evidence supporting the health benefits they will bring to those who take them.

5) Where and how should I store my medications? Heat and moisture should be avoided, therefore all medications must be kept in a dry, cool place. Avoid storing them in your bathroom, kitchen or car. If stored improperly, medications may lose their pharmacological activity, making them almost useless. Finally, make sure to check their expiration date, specially if they will be taken by children or elderly patients that may not do so themselves, discarding all medications that have expired.


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