Hesperian Health Guides
How to give medicines
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Medicines usually have 2 names. The generic (or scientific) name is the same everywhere in the world. Some companies that make medicines give each medicine they make a brand name. The same medicine made by 2 different companies will have 2 different brand names. In this book, we use generic names. If you need a certain medicine, any brand will do. Some brands cost much less than others.
Forms of medicines
Medicines come in different forms:
- Tablets, pills, capsules, and liquids are usually taken by mouth. Sometimes they may need to be inserted in the vagina or rectum.
- Inserts (suppositories, pessaries) are put into the vagina or the rectum.
- Injections are given with a needle — into a large muscle (IM), under the skin (intradermal or subcutaneous injection), or into the blood (IV).
- Liquids and syrups that are taken by mouth.
- Creams, ointments, or salves that contain medicine are applied directly to the skin or in the vagina.
In this book, we use pictures to show how a medicine should be given.
when we show
|Give tablets, pills,
capsules, or inserts
when we show
or cream when
we show this
Often, the same medicine can be given in different forms. For example, many medicines can be given by mouth or given by an injection. Usually, it is best to give medicines by mouth, because injecting can have risks. But in an emergency, injecting the medicine may be better, because it will usually work more quickly. In this book, we recommend the most effective ways to give each medicine, but you may be able to give a medicine in another form. We do not explain how to give medicines by IV (in the vein), because this method has more risk.
How much medicine to give
Pills, tablets, and capsules come in different weights and sizes. To be sure you are giving the right amount, check how many grams (g), milligrams (mg), micrograms (mcg), or Units (U) each pill or capsule contains.
For tablets, capsules, inserts, and injectable medicines
Most tablets, capsules, inserts, and injectable medicines are measured in grams (g) and milligrams (mg):
|1000 mg = 1 g|
|(one thousand milligrams is the same as one gram)|
|1 mg = 0.001 g|
|(one milligram is one one-thousandth part of a gram)|
|For example: One aspirin tablet has 325 milligrams of aspirin.|
|You could say
that one aspirin
|All of these are|
different ways to say
Some medicines, such as birth control pills, are weighed in micrograms (mcg or µcg):
|1 µcg = 1 mcg = 1/1000 mg = 0.001 mg|
|This means there are 1000 micrograms in a milligram.|
Injectable medicines may be measured in Units (U) or International Units (IU).
For liquid medicines
Syrups, suspensions, and other liquid medicines are usually given in milliliters (ml) or cubic centimeters (cc). A milliliter is the same as a cubic centimeter.
|1 ml = 1 cc|
|1000 ml = 1 liter|
|Sometimes liquids are given in teaspoons (tsp) or tablespoons (Tbs).|
|1 tsp = 5 ml
1 Tbs = 15 ml
1 Tbs = 3 tsp
To be sure you are taking the right amount of a liquid medicine, be sure that your teaspoon is 5 ml, or measure the medicine in a syringe.
If your pharmacy does not have the correct weight or size of a medicine
You may have to give part of a pill, or more than one to get the right dose.
|For example, if you only have 250 mg tablets of amoxicillin and you are supposed to give 500 mg each time, you must give 2 pills each time.|
250 mg + 250 mg = 500 mg
|Or, if you only have 500 mg tablets of amoxicillin and you need to give 250 mg each time, you must cut each pill in half.|
Dosing by weight
For most medicines in this book, we suggest doses that any adult woman can use. But for some medicines, especially ones that can be dangerous, it is better to figure out the dosage according to a person's weight (if you have a scale).
|For example, if you need to give gentamicin, and the dosage says 5 mg/kg/day, this means that each day you would give 5 milligrams (mg) of the medicine for each kilogram (kg) the person weighs.
So a 50 kg woman would receive 250 mg of gentamicin during 24 hours.
This amount should be divided up into separate doses. Dosage
instructions will say how many times the medicine should be
given each day.
When to take medicines
Some medicines should be taken once a day. Most must be taken more often. You do not need a clock. If the directions say:
|"1 tablet every 8 hours" or "3 tablets a day"||take 1 at sunrise, 1 in the afternoon, and 1 at night.|
|"1 tablet every 6 hours" or "4 tablets a day"||take 1 in the morning, 1 at midday, 1 in the late afternoon, and 1 at night.|
|"1 tablet every 4 hours"||take 6 pills a day, allowing the same amount of time between each pill.|
This is because a medicine only works while it is in the body. After a certain length of time, it passes out of the body. The person must take it regularly throughout the day to keep enough medicine in her body. And taking too much at once can cause poisoning.
To remind someone who cannot read how often to take their medicine, you can draw them a picture like this:
In the blanks at the bottom, draw the amount of medicine to take and carefully explain what it means. For example:
|This means they should take 1 tablet 4 times a day: 1 at sunrise, 1 at midday, 1 in the late afternoon, and 1 at night.||This means ½ tablet 4 times a day.||This means 2 spoons of syrup 2 times a day.|