Health & Medical Medications & Drugs

How to Read Prescription Bottles

    • 1). Check that you have your own prescription. The label should show your name, address or birth date and the health professional who prescribed the medication. Read to confirm that there's no confusion with other members of your family. In 2005, the pharmacy department of the Target store chain introduced a program to make prescriptions easier to identify; one of its features is assigning each family member a different color for a ring around the necks of prescription containers.

    • 2). Verify that the bottle contains the drug your doctor said you would be taking. Your doctor might mention a name-brand drug but check a box to okay substituting a lower-cost generic form; if so, you'll see both names. Some prescriptions may contain more than one active ingredient, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) and codeine. You need to know this so you don't take the same drug in nonprescription form. Check the form in which the medication is supplied --- tablet (or tab), capsule or for liquids, syrup or "in suspension," which might be abbreviated susp. The label may include a description of the shape and color of the medicine.

    • 3). Note the strength of each pill or capsule, most often given right with the name. You'll need this information for a list of all your medications and their strengths to share with new doctors in other specialties, of if you ever need medical care in an emergency or a refill out of town.

    • 4). Pay special attention to a clear instruction beginning with the word "take," which tells you the dose. If it only says "daily," you can take that medication at any time of day. If it says "morning," "evening" or "at bedtime," follow those instructions. If it says to take it with a particular meal or with food, these are important instructions to prevent side effects such as nausea. Take note of other precautions on stickers or extensions of the label.

    • 5). Calculate how many doses are in the bottle by dividing the listed quantity by the dosage. Antibiotics are generally prescribed a week at a time. A doctor may prescribe some medications for a month or longer. If your doctor wrote the prescription to be refilled, the label will say how many times. It may also give the first date when you can refill the prescription or when unused refills will expire.

    • 6). Confirm which pharmacist filled your prescription, the address or store number and the phone number you can call to order a refill. Find the prescription number to identify your record to the pharmacy.

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