LET’S start the new year by taking better care of our health, our loved ones and being mindful of what we do.

Maybe we can start by reviewing what medicine, vitamins and herbal supplements we’re taking in the name of better health? Do this for the whole family, especially if they’ve been prescribed medications that should be taken regularly.

Write down the diagnosis that you’ve been told. Then list down the names of the medications. Write down the dosage and frequency, followed by the side-effects that you’ve been informed about. If you’re not sure, it may be a good idea to read the leaflet that comes with the medication, or ask your doctor.

You should know these details because telling another doctor (in case of emergency admissions) that you’re taking a small, round tablet that’s white in colour for your hypertension does not help. There are thousands of medications that fit that description.

It’s important to know why you’re taking those medications as well as how and when. How you store them is also important. Do they need to be refrigerated? Some should not be peeled from their foil until you’re ready to take them.

This would be one of those medications you can’t put into your weekly medicine organiser. Do the same with your over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal supplements. What are you taking them for?

When you list them down systematically, you may find that certain medicines may clash with your other remedies. Similarly, you may be on medications that have the same risk profiles that can make symptoms worse or make you feel really ill due to the same side effects the different medications have. You might be double dosing yourself.

For example, sedatives that contain opioids, muscle relaxants, anti-anxiety medications and antihistamines can increase fatigue and exhaustion, making it unsafe to drive or be on your own. Many of these have to be taken with food, and usually before bed. Nonetheless, a few tablets with the same side effects can make you groggy, confused and miserable. It can also interfere with certain medications and medical conditions.

When you find yourself in such a situation, ask your doctor or the nearest pharmacist. Try not to self-diagnose or change your medication without asking your doctor. Most importantly, don’t simply stop your medications just because you feel better, especially when you’ve been told to complete the entire course, such as antibiotics and steroids.

You also need to remember to take your medicines at around the same time every day. As a general rule, twice daily means every 12 hours, three times daily means every eight hours, and four times daily is every six hours.

Some people may forget to take a dose or two of their medications regularly. This can be dangerous because they’ll go back to their doctor and their condition would not have improved. The doctor may increase the dosage or change medications when it isn’t actually necessary had you followed instructions. You just need to find a way to be more organised or be totally frank with your doctor.

BE MINDFUL

If you’ve been prescribed blood-thinning medications such as aspirin, remember to tell your family about it. If you ever needed to undergo elective surgery, the doctor would usually stop that medication and substitute it with something else for about a week.

They usually won’t operate if you’re actively on blood thinners. This largely depends on the type of blood thinners you’ve been prescribed and the type of surgery needed. It’s something you’d have to discuss with your doctor.

Many people are reluctant to tell their doctors everything they’re taking for fear of their doctor’s disapproval. Everyone wants to present their best side to their doctor and say, “I’ve been good!”

This guilt that we try to hide can be detrimental because certain supplements are known to interact with some medicine and cause adverse side effects. For example, taking a seemingly harmless supplement such as garlic may increase the risk of bleeding and can become a problem if you’re taking blood thinners such as warfarin.

A study reported by JAMA Internal Medicine showed, as an example, how vitamin B complex impacts muscle damage when combined with statins and can cause the kidneys to break down. Meanwhile, herbs such as St John’s Wort can weaken the effects of medications such as anti-depressants and heart medications.

Unlike prescription medications, alternative products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and do not go through extensive testing to prove they’re safe and effective before they can be sold to the public.

Lastly, certain medications are age-specific. You may have been on a certain medication almost all of your adult life. However, some medicines become high-risk for the elderly, such as people in their 60s. It’s time for a review for a different kind of care — a fresh start, a new beginning.

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