Things you should know about your medicines
Being aware of the medicines you are taking will help you to make better decisions affecting your health. Medicines include those prescribed by your doctor as well as over-the-counter medicines from the pharmacy or supermarket, complementary medicines, herbal remedies, vitamins and other supplements.
We encourage you to talk to your health care team about the medicines you are being offered. By talking to your health care team, you will be able to make the best choice for you. See My Medicine, My Choice brochure (PDF 202KB) for some tips on what you can talk about.
Know the active ingredient
The active ingredient name identifies the chemical in the medicine that produces the effect when taken. Many medicines also have a brand name given by the manufacturer.
Many medicines with the same active ingredient are available from different manufacturers and sold under different brand names. Sometimes different brands of medicine with the same active ingredient may have a slightly different formulation, colour, taste and packaging. It is important to understand that medicines with the same active ingredients will work in the same way to produce the same effect, even if they are sold under different brand names and different packaging.
If your pharmacist offers you an alternative brand of medicine with the same active ingredient you can be confident that it will have the same effect. If you have any questions about medicine brands or concerns about a new brand of medicine you have started taking please speak to your pharmacist.
More information about active ingredients and medicine brands is available from the National Prescribing Service (NPS) website:
It is important to take medicines as instructed
You should always make sure that you follow the instructions about how to take your medicine given to your by your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse. Some medicines may need to be taken at the same time every day to make sure that you have a stable dosage, whereas you may be directed to take other medicines only as required. Information about how to take your medicines is also contained in the Consumer Medicines Information (where available) and often printed on the label. If you are unsure about how/when to take your medicines you should check with your doctor or pharmacist.
What will/does your medicine do?
All medicines have an effect when taken into the body. Some medicines product a strong effect, whereas the effects of other medicines might not even be noticeable. Medicines are usually taken for specific effects to cure, relieve or prevent a medical condition. However, sometimes unwanted side-effects may be produced and the potential benefits of the medicine need to be weighed up against the risk of side-effects.
It is useful to discuss any new medicines you are recommended with your doctor or pharmacist so that you understand why you have been recommended the medicine and what the likely effects are. Sometimes you may be prescribed more than one medicine to treat different aspects of the same condition. When you are recommended a new medicine by your doctor or pharmacist you should make sure you discuss what medicines you are already taking so that you do not end up taking multiple medicines with the same effect or which interact to produce unwanted effects.
You can find out more information about what your medicine will do and how it works by:
- talking to your doctor or pharmacist
- looking at the product Consumer Medicines Information
- visiting the NPS website – ‘what will my medicine do for me’.
All medicines have an effect on your body. Usually a medicine is taken for a desired effect to treat a particular condition, however sometimes people will also experience side-effects. You doctor or pharmacist can discuss possible side effects with your before you start taking a new medicine. Information about possible side-effects is available in the Consumer Medicines Information (CMI) leaflet; however you should keep in mind that not everyone will experience the side-effects listed:
Often side-effects may mild or even barely noticeable, however sometimes unwanted side-effects may have more serious consequences and should be discussed with your doctor or pharmacist. It is important to discuss side-effects you experience with your healthcare professional. More information about side-effects is available from the NPS website.
Some medicines may interact with other medicines or certain foods or drinks if they are taken in combination, or even if they are taken hours apart. Interactions can alter the effects of the medicine and sometimes change how strongly the medicine works or change its side effects.
There are a range of medicines that are known to interact strongly with each other. This is why it is important to discuss what medicines you are already taking with your doctor or pharmacist before you start taking any new medicines. This includes combining over-the-counter medicines, or even vitamins. Many medicines are known to interact with certain foods and drinks such as grapefruit or alcohol and so your doctor or pharmacist may advise you to be aware of possible interactions with these foods or drinks before you start taking the medicine.
More information about medicine interactions is available from the NPS website.
Medicines in pregnancy
Most medicines are safe to take while you are pregnant or breastfeeding, but there are some medicines that you should avoid. If you are pregnant you should discuss your current medications with your GP when you go for a check-up and discuss any new medicines, including over-the-counter medicines with your doctor or pharmacist before you start taking them. More information about medicines and pregnancy is available on the NPS website.
Medicines in infants and children
Dosages of medicines for infants and children are usually different to adult dosages and some medicines are not suitable for use infants or children and an alternative would need to be considered. You can discuss which medicines are suitable to give to infants or children and recommended dosages with your doctor or pharmacist. More information is also available on the NPS website.
Storing your medicines
Medicines should be stored in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, which are generally printed on the packaging and/or on the Consumer Medicines Information (CMI) leaflet. Usually medicines should be stored in a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight, however storage conditions vary and some medicines need to be refrigerated. If you did not receive a CMI with your medicine, you can ask for one from your doctor or pharmacist, or search for it on the NPS website.
It is important that medicines are stored out of reach of children to prevent accidental ingestion, which could lead to serious consequences. If you have concerns about an overdose or suspected poisoning, call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.
Storage of medicines in their original packaging enables them to be easily identified along with important information such as the dispensing label. It is important not to mix different stocks of medicines as the expiry dates may be different.
What to do with unwanted or expired medicines
You should make sure to check the expiry date on your medicines before you take them. If your medicines have expired or have not been stored in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions printed on the packet you should not take them. Just like most foods, most medicines deteriorate over time and may become less effective, or their chemical properties may even change so that they could be dangerous to take.
If your medicines have expired or you no longer need them you can return them to your local pharmacy for safe disposal. You should not dispose of unwanted medicines in the bin or down the drain as this may have harmful consequences on the environment. If a friend or relative was prescribed medicines they no longer need, these medicines should be returned to the pharmacy. You should never take medicines prescribed for someone else as they may have unwanted side-effects
What to do if you have any concerns about your medicines
If you have any concerns about any of the medicines you or someone you care for is taking you should discuss these concerns with your pharmacist or doctor. Alternately, you may call the Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424).
If you have concerns about an overdose or suspected poisoning, call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 or call your nearest Emergency Department.