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To get the best results from your medicines, it's important to use them as they are intended.
You need to:
Always use medicines according to the instructions on the label on the packet, or as your doctor or pharmacist has advised you.
Read the patient information leaflet provided with the medicine, as it may answer some of the questions you have.
If you are concerned about anything in the leaflet, talk to your pharmacist. The doctor may have prescribed a medicine for a condition that is not listed in the leaflet.
If your medicines aren't used in the right way, you may not get the best out of them and they may even make you feel worse. Don't use them after their expiry dates, and never use other people's prescription medicines.
If you're ever unsure about how to use a medicine or you would like to ask a question about it, you can ask your local pharmacist. You don't need to book an appointment.
Find out more about how your local pharmacist can help you.
Shared decision making (SDM) is the conversation that happens between you and your doctor so you can reach a decision about your treatment together.
As part of this conversation, your doctor may suggest using a patient decision aid with you. This is a tool designed to help you weigh up the risks and benefits of different treatments, depending on your health, lifestyle and preferences.
See more about shared decision making.
If you have a long-term condition, your doctor may suggest using a self-management plan. The plan normally covers every aspect of your medicines, including what they are for, when to take them, when to get advice, and what important side effects to look out for.
If you are not happy about using a self-management plan once the details have been explained to you, you can say so. Just explain why you're not able or don't want to use it.
This is a list of things you may want to ask your doctor before they prescribe a medicine for you. A pharmacist or other health professional may also be able to answer these questions. You may like to print these out and take them with you for your appointment.
If you are prescribed a medicine for a long-term condition for the first time, you may be able to get extra help from your pharmacist through the New Medicine Service.
Pharmacist Sunita Behl answers some frequently asked questions about medicines you might have at home.
"There's absolutely no difference in the active ingredients. The ibuprofen in a brand-name medicine is the same as the ibuprofen in a non-branded one. If you're not sure about what's in a brand-name medicine, read the active ingredients, which will be listed on the packaging. You can always ask your pharmacist for help."
"Always ask the advice of a pharmacist if you are unsure about how to use medicines for your children. This is really important. If children are given the wrong medicine or the wrong amount, this is likely to affect them more than adults.
"Always get the advice of a pharmacist or doctor about which medicine is most suitable for your child. The amount of active ingredients they contain is specific to a child's body, weight and age. Children may also find it easier to take medicine in a liquid form, but always ask your child what they would prefer.
"You can get some liquid medicines in individual sachets. These can be useful for when you're out and about.
"With my own young children, I use an oral syringe to give them liquid medicines. You can accurately measure out smaller doses, and it's easy to get the medicine into their mouth without spilling any.
"Do read the leaflet when using an oral syringe. If the medicine is squirted too quickly, it can make children cough and splutter, and they may not get the right amount.
"Never give a child aspirin because it may contribute to Reye's syndrome , a rare but potentially fatal childhood condition."
See more about medicines for children.
"Some types of packaging can be difficult to open. Your pharmacist may be able to dispense your medicines in different containers. Ask them what they can offer. Child safety is the biggest concern, so always store medicines in a place where children can't see them or get at them."
"The bathroom cabinet is one of the worst places to keep medicines because it can be warm and damp. Medicines should always be kept in a cool, dark place because exposure to heat and light can result in them not working as they should. The best place is a lockable cabinet out of the sight and reach of children, away from heat and moisture.
"Some medicines need to be kept in the fridge. If this is the case, it will be written on the packet or instruction leaflet. Again, keep these out of the sight and reach of children, perhaps at the back of the fridge.
"It's best to keep medicines in their original packaging, with the instruction leaflet still inside the packet. Be aware that medicines, like food, have an expiry date. Never take a medicine after it has expired."
"Your pharmacist may be able to put large-print labels on the medicine if you ask. You can always ask them to talk you through the instructions as well."
"If you have any concerns about your medicines, speak to your pharmacist first. If they can't help or they think that you need to see your doctor, they will advise you to do that. There's no need to make an appointment to see your pharmacist, and they may be available in the evenings and at weekends.
"Pharmacists are experts who are qualified to give advice on the safe use of medicines. Your pharmacist may suggest a medication review or medicines use review (MUR), which is a detailed review of all the medicines you are taking, whether prescribed or bought over the counter. The feedback is sent to your doctor, who can then take any necessary action."
"Never throw unused or expired medicines in the rubbish bin or flush them down the toilet. Children could take the medicine from the bin, and medicines that have been flushed down a toilet could end up in the drinking water system or harm the environment. Take unwanted medicines to a pharmacy, where they can be disposed of safely."
Find more common medicines questions and answers.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.