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Not understanding what the directions mean

Not understanding what the directions mean

Some medications come with the exact instructions for use every day, such as 'take 1 tablet by mouth every 8 hours.'

But they are not always as clear as that, they can often be confusing, and can be written in a way that could have more than one meaning. The following describes some of the more commonly written directions, and explains what they actually mean.

Take as directed

This is not helpful unless there are also written directions provided. The doctor or pharmacist should not expect a patient to be able to remember the dosing instructions. You should always check with the pharmacist or doctor to make sure that you fully understand and are able to check what the directions are.

One to be taken when required

Some medications are only used when required or as needed for a specific situation. This could be for pain killers, or for conditions such as such angina chest pains, the common cold, allergies, constipation, or pain. It's important to know the difference between daily and 'as needed' medicines.

To be taken an hour before food or on an empty stomach

When a label says take on an empty stomach it is because food in the stomach can stop the tablets work as well.

This can be an issue as many patients seem to think there should be food in the stomach to line the stomach so the medicine will not cause stomach issues. This is true for some medicines such as ibuprofen but certainly not all.  If the medicine says take on an empty stomach then that is what you should do.

Usually take one hour before eating any food. For example one hour before your breakfast (or leave about two hours after you have eaten a meal).

To be taken with or after food

In the opposite way, some medicines work better with food in the stomach. You should not take the medicine on an empty stomach.

It means you can take the medicine just before, right after, or while you are having a meal. This is because certain medications can cause an upset stomach if not taken with food. Also, some medications are absorbed better when taken with food.

One to be taken three times a day

When the medicine label on the medicine says to take three times day it generally means 'take every 8 hours'.

For example we divide 8 hours into 24 hours which gives us 3. Therefore four times a day would be 'every 6 hours,' (24 divided by 6 = 4).

However, you would not wake the patient during the night so:

  • for four times a day you would take at breakfast, lunch, supper, and bedtime
  • for three times a day you would take at breakfast, dinner and tea

Try to spread out the dose during waking hours.

One to be taken at night

Some medicines are better to take at night. This could be a sleeping tablet. However, some medicines work better while you are asleep such as cholesterol lowering medicines.

Other medicines are taken at night because the side effects will not be noticed by the patient if they are laying down asleep, such as dizziness.

Warning or cautionary instructions

Swallow whole - do not crush

Time release capsules or tablets that dissolve in the body over a long period of time must not be crushed or broken in half because the long release design will be altered or even stopped.

Take regularly and complete the course

This is usually seen on instructions for antibiotic medicines.

It means to take evenly throughout the day and finish all the medicine. This is really important to make sure that an infection is killed. Otherwise it increases the chance of infections developing resistance to the antibiotics. A big worry for the medical profession!

Take with plenty of water

This means a glassful. And it means cold water – not a hot cup of tea!  Some medicines are made ineffective by heat. By drinking it with hot tea, you might stop the medicine working!

Apply sparingly

For a cream or ointment, this means apply thinly. It usually needs about a fingertip's amount to cover size of a hand.

Shake the bottle

Do this thoroughly! It may be because the active ingredient tends to settle to the bottom.

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