QUEST FOR THE HEALTHY GRAIL: Take it all and tell your pharmacist

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Do what you're told — especially if it's by your doctor.

When we're sick, we want medicine. But when we stop showing signs of sickness, most of us stop caring and stop taking the medicine we waited and waited for, or we don't take them correctly in the first place.

In 2005, the U.S. spent $200.7 billion dollars on prescription drugs, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. How much of that goes to waste when we don't take the drugs right?

To save money, get a little healthy and get the most from your medicines, there are a few things to consider.

* Complete prescriptions. The doctor gave you 20 pills for a reason. Medicap Pharmacy claimed 50 percent of prescriptions in the United States are taken incorrectly and stopping medication early can stop a drug's effectiveness.

* Complete them in the time allotted on the directions. Stopping medication or stretching the time you take them isn't going to help. One pill, twice a day for 10 days if that's what the bottle says.

* Like spices, medications lose potency over time. Look through your medicine cabinet and do some spring cleaning. Medicines that have expired should be thrown out.

There are some secrets you need to keep, like when Fido pooped in the neighbor's yard and you didn't clean it up. But your list of medication — prescription and over the counter — should be an open book with your pharmacist. When it comes to the white coat, TMI doesn't exist.

The easiest way for your medicine man (or woman) to know all your medications is to consolidate pharmacies. You've seen the commercials. Spreading your investments is good for your future; spreading your medications is bad for your health.

Certain OTC medications can interfere with prescription medications and asking your pharmacist — your one pharmacist who knows your medical history — can prevent complications or problems.

Just you knowing the differences between some OTC medications can be helpful as well. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) reduces pain and fever, but not inflammation. NSAIDs are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). You can see what pain reliever you're taking in the "active ingredient" box on the label.

NSAIDs help aches and reduce pain and swelling, but can be harmful to the stomach lining. They work by blocking prostaglandins that cause pain. The problem is they block the good prostaglandins, too, like those that regulate blood pressure and protect the stomach lining.

Pain relievers that work because of acetaminophen are easier on the stomach, and generally better for those worried about blood pressure because they don't touch prostaglandins. Acetaminophen in high doses, though, may damage the liver.

So whether you take the blue pill, the red pill or even the purple pill, tell your pharmacist and, for best results, take as directed.

Have a quest? Features editor Chris Harris is ready to hunt down the answer. Send questions to charris@semissourian.com; post on semissourian.com/blogs under "Quest for the Healthy Grail" or c/o Quest, 301 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63703.

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