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Prescription Drug Dos And Don'ts

Simple mistakes with your medications can cause serious problems.

On Monday, The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay identifies the most common missteps, and offers advice on how to avoid them.

For instance, Senay points out, no drug is completely free from the risk of side effects, even if it's taken as directed. Make sure you read, understand and follow all the directions and information that you're given when you get prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. Always tell your doctor and pharmacist about other medications and supplements you're taking. Take note of the potential side effects and adverse reactions, and be on the lookout for them. Report any adverse reactions to your doctor.

Also, swapping prescription drugs with a friend or family member isn't a good idea, Senay observes. Men and women react differently to medication, and factors such as metabolism and hormones can affect how quickly a drug takes effect. In addition, a drug that works for one person may not work for another. Adverse reactions to other medications is also a danger, as is the possibility of an allergic reaction to another person's medication.

Another no-no: combining drugs on your own. Many medications can be taken safely together, but you need to consult with your doctor or pharmacist about potential interactions with other drugs if you're not clear about the effects of combining them. You need to watch out for unknowingly taking dangerous amounts of one medicine that's an ingredient in multiple brands. The pain reliever acetaminophen, common in many cold and flu medications, can be harmful in large quantities, and it's found in some prescription pain meds as well.

To steer clear of interactions among medications, consult with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure the medication or supplement is appropriate for you. Read the directions and warnings carefully, especially if you're taking more than one medication. Make sure you identify the active ingredients. Be aware that different medications used at the same time can have harmful interactions.

One more risky move: exceeding recommended dosages. It's very dangerous, Senay says, to take more of a drug than directed. Even aspirin has dangerous effects, such as bleeding, in high doses. But excessive dosages are taken more often than you'd think. Sometimes, people exceed the recommended dosage to try to improve the effect of a medication. Some may take a higher dosage initially or take the medication more frequently than advised. Others are unknowingly exceeding recommended doses when they combine different medications for different symptoms and don't realize they contain the same active ingredients.

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