Hesperian Health Guides
How to take medicines safely
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- Take the full amount.
- Do not take too much.
- Avoid taking more than 1 medicine at the same time.
- Know and watch for signs of problems.
- Know as much as you can about a medicine.
Take the full amountMany medicines, particularly antibiotics, must be taken
Do not take too much
Some people think that taking more medicine will heal the body faster. This is not true and can be dangerous! If you take too much medicine at one time or take a medicine too often, it may cause serious harm.
Avoid taking more than 1 medicine at the same time
Some medicines can stop other medicines from working. Some medicines cause problems when they are taken with other medicines.
Avoid combination medicines (2 or more medicines in 1 tablet). Some combination medicines are necessary, but they usually cost more, and you may be putting medicine in your body that you do not need. For example, some eye drops and eye ointments contain both antibiotics and steroids. The steroids can be harmful. Combination medicines can also cause more side effects.
Know and watch for signs of problems with a medicine
Many medicines have side effects. These are unintended effects of the medicine that are annoying or uncomfortable. Common side effects are nausea, stomach aches, headaches, or sleepiness.
Side effects can sometimes be very severe — like damage to the organs inside the body. A medicine with these effects is usually only worth taking in emergencies. Sometimes you should only take a medicine for a short time and then stop to avoid being hurt by the side effects.
Whenever you give a medicine to a woman, tell her what side effects she might have. If she has these effects, she will know it is normal and she is more likely to keep taking the medicine for the needed number of days. She will also know which effects are not normal side effects, and might show that she has an allergy.
Some people are allergic to certain medicines. When a person is given that medicine, her body has a reaction. She may have a small, uncomfortable reaction or a very serious reaction that can endanger her life.
Do not give a medicine to someone who is allergic to that medicine. Do not give the person any medicines from the same family.
To prevent an allergic reaction from a medicine:
- Before giving any medicine, ask the woman if she has had itching or other problems after taking that medicine or a similar medicine in the past. If she has had a reaction in the past, do not give that medicine or any medicine from the same family.
- Stay with a woman for 30 minutes after giving an injection. During this time, watch for signs of allergic reaction.
- Have medicines ready to fight allergic reaction.
Signs of allergic reaction:
- skin rash
- itching skin or eyes
- swelling of the lips or face
||by mouth, 1 time|
||by mouth, 1 time|
|You can give another 25 mg of either medicine in 6 hours if rash, itching, swelling, or wheezing has not stopped.|
Signs of severe allergic reaction or allergic shock:
- pale skin
- cold, sweaty skin
- weak, rapid pulse or heartbeat
- difficulty breathing
- low blood pressure
- loss of consciousness
|For allergic shock|
|Get medical help. On the way:|
||under the skin, 1 time only (subcutaneous injection)|
||in the muscle, 1 time only|
||in the muscle, 1 time only|
Taking too much
Some common signs of taking too much of a medicine are:
- pain in the stomach
- ringing in the ears
- fast breathing
These can also be side effects for some medicines. If you are not sure whether the woman has taken too much, use the descriptions of the drug on the following pages to check for its common side effects.
If a woman has any of these signs and they are not common side effects of the medicine she is taking, she should stop taking the medicine and get medical help.
Taking too much of a medicine can kill a person, especially a child. Keep medicines away from children. If you think a person may have poisoned herself from taking too much medicine, act quickly to help her:
- Try to make the person vomit. She may be able to get the extra medicine out of her body before it harms her more.
- Give activated charcoal. Activated charcoal can absorb some kinds of drugs and keep them from acting as poison.
- Get medical help immediately.
Know as much as you can about the medicine
Many medicines must be taken at a certain time of day, with food, or on an empty stomach. Certain medicines are never safe for certain people to take. For example, a woman with high blood pressure should not take ergometrine, which can make blood pressure even worse. Read the descriptions of each drug on the following pages and any information that comes with the drug, or ask pharmacists or health workers so you can learn who can take the medicine safely — and how they should take it for it to be most effective.