Ask Elizabeth: How to Manage Multiple Medications

03/12/2013 08:08 EDT | Updated 05/12/2013 05:12 EDT
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Picture taken on January 28, 2013 in Lille shows pills of Diane 35, an acne drug often prescribed by doctors as a contraceptive. ANSM, France's health regulator, has started an inquiry into Diane-35, after four deaths have been linked to the drug made by Bayer, the German pharmaceutical company, authorities believe. AFP PHOTO PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Coming home from the hospital following an illness or surgery can be overwhelming in an already stressful time and it's important to have a plan based on your needs. Who will help you recuperate at home? Is there anyone who can help you understand how to manage new medications?

Natalie Strouth is a nurse with Saint Elizabeth and the information specialist behind Ask Elizabeth, a free caregiver support service. Saint Elizabeth has been a trusted name in Canadian health care for more than a century and is a national, not-for-profit, charitable organization.

In her weekly column, Natalie answers your questions about caring for a family member or friend who needs extra support -- and caring for yourself as a caregiver.

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Chad asks: My wife was recently discharged from the hospital and she is now on many medications. This is very new to me and I find all this medication confusing and overwhelming. What should I do?

Managing multiple medications is tricky, whether you have had a hospital stay or are living with a chronic health condition. With all the different instructions and potential side effects it's hard to know if the medications you take on a daily basis are working as well as they should.

As a community nurse, I have been the first health care professional to visit many patients after being discharged from the hospital, and I know how confusing and overwhelming it can be to get home and open that bag of new medications.

Meeting with your pharmacist, who is THE medication expert, is a great way to alleviate your concerns and make sure your wife is taking medications safely. Your local pharmacist is an integral member of your community health care team and can support you and your wife with managing this new experience.

I recommend you schedule a consultation with your local pharmacist to discuss the recent change in your wife's health and the new medications she is on. This will help you understand what they have been prescribed for and discuss any possible side effects.

It's a good idea to write down any specific questions and bring a current list of all medications and dosages. Things to prepare for meeting with your pharmacist:

  • Tell the pharmacist that you are a caregiver and get permission from your wife to receive information about her prescriptions.
  • Write down any specific questions you have before you meet.
  • Bring a current list of all medications and dosages, including any over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, vitamins, supplements and topical creams. List any side effects or reactions.
  • Make sure you receive, understand, and can read the written information about the medications.
  • Review each new medication with your pharmacist. Make sure you understand what they have been prescribed for and discuss any possible side effects.
  • Tell your pharmacist about any allergies or reactions to medications your wife has or has had in the past.

In Ontario, MedsCheck is a program that allows you to book an annual 20-30 minute meeting with your community pharmacist to ensure that you are safely and appropriately using all types of medication. And it's free!

Consulting with your pharmacist should help clear up any confusion you are having. I also suggest you always use the same pharmacist, which will help him or her get to know you and your needs.

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Ask Elizabeth does not offer legal guidance, nor does it answer questions about personal health issues.