The Basics: Overview
Medicines can help you feel better and get well when you are sick. 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 label or from your pharmacist, doctor, or nurse, you get the best results.
Take these simple steps to avoid problems with medicines.
- Follow the directions on the medicine label carefully.
- If you don’t understand the 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.
- Store your medicines in a cool, dry place where children and pets can’t see or reach them.
The Basics: Prescription Medicines
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 (order) from your doctor. You get these medicines 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- Throw away expired (out-of-date) or unused prescription medicines.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.
The Basics: OTC Medicines
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are medicines you can buy at a store without a prescription.
Some examples of OTC medicines include:
- Cold and flu medicines
- Pain medicines like aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen
- Allergy medicines
- Sleep aids
- Toothpaste with fluoride
Drug Facts label
All OTC medicines come with a Drug Facts label. The information on this label can help you choose the right OTC medicine for your symptoms.
The Drug Facts label also gives you instructions for using the medicine safely. Even OTC medicines can cause side effects or harm if you use too much or don’t use them correctly.
Following the directions on the Drug Facts label will lower your chances of side effects. Learn more about what’s on the Drug Facts label.
Your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist can also help you choose OTC medicines and can answer any questions you may have.