There are many types of prescription medicines used to help people manage their health. Your doctor and your pharmacist are your best sources to learn about your prescription medicines.
Guidelines for taking every kind of prescription medicine could fill a whole shelf of books. This topic gives you basic information about antibiotics, minor tranquilizers, and sleeping pills.
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|Insomnia: Should I Take Sleeping Pills?|
Antibiotics are drugs that kill bacteria. But they only work against bacteria. They don't kill viruses, so they won't work against a cold, the flu, or another viral illness. Unless you have a bacterial infection, it's best to avoid the possible harmful effects of antibiotics, which may include:
If you and your doctor decide that you need an antibiotic, carefully follow the instructions for taking the medicine.
For more information, see the topic Using Antibiotics Wisely.
Some minor tranquilizers (such as Valium and Xanax) and sleeping pills (such as Ambien and Sonata) are widely prescribed. But these medicines can cause problems such as memory loss, addiction, and loss of balance. In rare cases, people who use them have done things like drive or eat while they're still asleep. These medicines also can cause a serious allergic reaction. So it’s important to use them with caution.
Minor tranquilizers can be useful if you use them for a short time. But long-term use often isn't very helpful, and it increases the risk of addiction and mental problems.
Sleeping pills may help for a few days or a few weeks. But if you use them for more than a month, they are likely to cause more sleep problems than they solve. For other options, see the topic Insomnia or Sleeping Better.
If you have been taking minor tranquilizers or sleeping pills for a while, talk with your doctor. Ask if you can stop taking the medicine or if you can gradually take less of it over time. If you have felt unsteady or dizzy, have had any memory loss, or have had signs of an allergic reaction, tell your doctor.
There are many kinds of bad reactions (adverse reactions) to medicine.
Side effects. A side effect is any effect other than the one you want. They tend to be mild, but they can still bother you. In some cases, side effects can be serious.
Medicine interactions. These happen when two or more medicines or herbal supplements mix in a person's body and cause a bad reaction. The symptoms can be severe and may be wrongly diagnosed as a new illness.
Medicine-food interactions. These happen when medicines react with food. Some drugs work best when you take them with food, but others should be taken on an empty stomach. Some medicine-food interactions can cause serious symptoms.
Overmedication. If you take too much of a medicine, it may trigger an adverse reaction. This can especially be a problem for people of small size and older adults. Sometimes the typical adult dose is too much for these people. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
Addiction. Long-term use of some medicines can lead to dependency. You may have a severe reaction if you stop taking the medicine all at once. Find out from your doctor if a medicine may be addictive. To learn more, see the topic Alcohol and Drug Problems.
Decision Points are designed to guide you through key health decisions, combining medical information with your personal information to make a wise health decision. For help in learning the pros and cons of certain medicines, see a list of Decision Points About Medicines.
No matter what type of medicine you take, make sure to follow your doctor's advice about how to take it. And find out the safest way to throw away medicines that are expired or no longer used. Use these drug disposal tips to help prevent people and animals from taking medicines that aren't intended for them:
Only a few medicines should be flushed down the sink or toilet if you can't use a take-back program. To see a list from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, go to www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/EnsuringSafeUseofMedicine/SafeDisposalofMedicines/ucm186187.htm#MEDICINES.
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This website has health information for people of all ages. Topics include the following: medicines, food and nutrition, medical devices, cosmetics, and animal health. Spanish materials are also available.
Other Works Consulted
- Lorig K, et al. (2006). Managing your medicines. In Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, 3rd ed., pp. 239–253. Boulder, CO: Bull.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2011). Disposal of unused medicines: What you should know. Available online:
|Primary Medical Reviewer||E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Theresa O'Young, PharmD - Clinical Pharmacy|
|Last Revised||March 9, 2012|
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