Medicines can help you feel better and get well. But if you don’t follow the directions, medicines can hurt you.
You can lower your chances of side effects (unwanted or unexpected effects) from medicines by following directions carefully. Side effects may be mild, like an upset stomach. Other side effects can be more serious, like damage to your liver.
When you follow the directions on the medicine’s label or from your pharmacist, doctor, or nurse, you get the best results.
There are simple steps you can take to avoid problems.
- Follow the medicine’s directions carefully.
- If you don’t understand the medicine’s directions, ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist to explain them to you.
- Keep a list of all the medicines, vitamins, minerals, and herbs you use. Share this information with your doctor.
- Put your medicines in a cool, dry place where children and pets can’t see or get to them.
There are different types of medicine.
The 2 main types of medicine are prescription and over the counter (OTC).
Prescription medicines are medicines you can get only with a prescription (or order) from your doctor. You get this medicine at a pharmacy.
- Prescription medicines shouldn’t be used by anyone except the person whose name is on the prescription.
- Throw away expired (out-of-date) or unused prescription medicines. Ask your pharmacist about the safest way to throw medicines away.
Sometimes you can choose between a generic medicine and a brand name medicine. Generic and brand name medicines work the same way. Generic medicine usually costs less.
Talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or insurance company for more information about generic medicines. Learn more about generic medicines [PDF - 108 KB].
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are medicines you can buy at a store without a prescription. All OTC medicines come with a Drug Facts label. This label can help you choose the right OTC medicine for you and your problem.
The label also gives you instructions for using the medicine safely. Even OTC medicines can cause side effects or harm you if you use too much or don’t use them correctly.
Some examples of OTC medicines include:
- Cold and flu medicines
- Pain medicines like aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen
- Allergy medicines
- Sleep aids
- Toothpaste with fluoride
- Antiperspirant (found in many underarm deodorants)
Follow the directions on the label to lower your chances of side effects.
Learn more about what’s on an OTC Drug Facts label.