Answers to the Most Common Questions Regarding Prescription Drugs



by Henry Luchtefeld, R.Ph.


Why is it that sometimes my bottle says “Take tablet whole/do not crush or chew”?

            Some medications have a coating that, if broken, could irritate your stomach or esophagus or possibly cause ulcers. Others simply will not work if they are broken and chewed because the stomach acid would destroy the medicine. Another reason is because many medicines are time-released. The time-release capsules (or tablets) gradually give out medicine over a twelve or twenty-four hour time frame. If you were to crush the specially designed capsule, it would not work as a time release pill. In addition, it could be dangerous if the medicine that was supposed to be gradually released over twenty-four hours, was released all at one time into your stomach.


Do I really need to take my medicine with food?

            Most commonly, the “take with food” label is on the prescription bottle to prevent an upset stomach if the medication is known to irritate the stomach lining. However, some medications can actually cause an ulcer in your stomach (or esophagus) very quickly. If you take it without food, the medicine may physically stick to your esophagus or stomach and burn a hole in the lining. Also, some medications have been shown to be more effective if taken with food.


My bottle always has a “take on an empty stomach” sticker on it. Is fifteen minutes before a meal OK?

            Generally, when you are told to take medicine on an empty stomach it means one hour before the meal or two hours after the meal. These are the minimum times that should be used. If you can take it even sooner before the meal or longer after the meal, that is even better. Some medications will not work at all unless they are on an empty stomach while others  will not work as well.


Should I put the cotton plug back in my bottle to prevent the tablets from breaking?

            No. Once the cotton is taken out of the bottle, throw it away. The cotton will actually pull moisture into the bottle from the air. Medications remain most effective when they are kept moisture-free.


Should I store my medications in the refrigerator to keep them cool?

            There are certain medications that must be stored in the refrigerator such as insulin, some AIDS and cancer drugs etc. However, for the vast majority of medications, you need to store them in a cool (or room temperature), DRY place such as a bedroom. Refrigerators hold a lot of moisture which is not good for the medication.


How soon after I start taking my medication should I expect to encounter a side effect?

            The more common side effects such as drowsiness or lightheadedness usually occur very soon, within minutes to hours, after the first dose of medication is taken. The majority of all side effects to medications occur within the first forty-eight hours of starting the medication. However, sometimes a medication can be taken for months or years with no problem and then suddenly a problem may develop, such as a rash or joint pain or muscle soreness. If you develop some problem out of the ordinary, keep in mind the possibility it could be one of your medications.


Why should I drink water with my cough syrup?

            It has been found that if you drink lots of fluids such as water, juice, or non-caffeinated and non-alcoholic beverages, it helps the cough medicine work better. It is thought that by drinking lots of water you “hydrate” yourself and this helps clear the mucous out of the lungs internally by using the lungs natural abilities. If you are not well hydrated, the mucous tends to be thicker and stickier making it harder to cough up.


What is the difference between an elixir, suspension and solution?

            All three of the above have a couple things in common, they are liquids and they have medicine in them. The solution has the medicine dissolved in it so there is no need to shake the bottle before giving or taking the medicine because the medicine is always equally dispersed throughout all of the liquid. Think of an elixir as a solution with alcohol.  The amount of alcohol in the elixir varies. A suspension has the medicine “suspended” in the liquid and therefore settling of the medicine may occur. Because of this settling, shaking of a suspension is necessary to be certain you are getting the proper amount of medication.


How do you know which is best, the elixir, suspension or solution?

            There is not one that is considered to be superior to the others. Since the elixir has alcohol, many persons stay away from this form. The suspension often times taste better than a solution, if a particularly bad tasting medicine is involved. The solution has the convenience of no alcohol and no shaking required. It is a matter of personal choice that ultimately decides what you should use.



From Take Control of Your Prescription Health by Henry Luchtefeld, R.Ph. Copyright © 1999 by Jenry Consulting. Excerpted by arrangement with Jenry Consulting. $10.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800-549-1318 or click here.