Do You Really Know What You’re Taking?


Prescription medications, vitamins, supplements and herbal preparations

I just saw a patient for her initial consultation. She brought in a complete list of all of her current medications. While she is taking 14 different medications and supplements, her list was both complete and simple to review. Wow!

This got me to thinking, what a powerful tool to help in her care. Wouldn’t it be great if all of us keep such a list? I often have patients who are on a prescription drug, but they cannot remember either the drug name or dose they are taking. You may know the name of your multi-vitamin, but what does it contain? There are literally thousands (at least 50,000) of vitamins, dietary supplements and over-the-counter medications available to us. As supplements are not standardized like prescription drugs, they can greatly vary in the active ingredient (s), strength and potency.

Knowing what you are taking is important for you health and safety. It is critical for your health care providers (this includes your pharmacy) to have a complete list of everything you take. This allows for the patient and provider to better partner toward optimal health. There are a number of drug-drug and drug-supplement interactions that can occur. Some supplements can be associated with unwanted side effects before, during, and after surgery. It is not uncommon to see patients taking too much of some supplements, especially iron and vitamins A and E.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) estimates that more than one-half of U.S adults take dietary supplements while only 56% report their use to their health care provider.

Create your own personal medication record. You may wish to create your own document/spreadsheet or use one of many templates available on the Internet. Explore reading the labels, you will learn a lot and might even find a few surprises!

As a minimum, make a list of all current medications you take (include prescription, over-the counter, vitamins and supplements).

A more complete option would be:
1. List all medicines you currently take. This includes any prescription medications, over-the-counter preparations, eye drops, skin patches, vitamins, dietary supplements, herbals, birth control and topical creams/ointments.

2. Include:

  • Medicine name/ Strength: Example: Synthroid 50 micrograms
  • How much/ When do you take it: Example: 1 tablet orally each AM before meal
  • Manufacturer: Example: AbbVie Inc.

3. Update your list when stating, changing dose or stopping any preparation.

4. List any drug allergies, side effects, or sensitivities you have.

5. For vitamins, dietary supplements and herbal products look at all the active ingredients.

6. Provide your health care provider with a copy of your updated personal medication record at each visit. Have the list available for the Pharmacist when you fill a prescription.

Helpful Hint: Be creative. Consider taking pictures of your medication/vitamin/supplement containers (include the ingredients section). Store them on your Smartphone or iPad/Tablet.