08/12/2017 12:47 SAST | Updated 12/12/2017 15:47 SAST

Your Mom's Medication May Not Work On You -- And This Is Why

It could even make you worse.

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South Africans are being urged to become more involved in ensuring their medicine is safe and does what it's supposed to do.

"Many patients fail to read the medication package inserts and many do not report any side effects they experience (whether expected or unexpected) to their healthcare providers," said Dr Nicola Lister, medical director and chief scientific officer at Novartis.

This can have adverse effects, said Lister, who was speaking to HuffPost ahead of World Patient Safety Day on the December 9.

Here are her top pointers to ensure safe medication use:

1. Do not use handed-down medication

Lister cautioned against using medication that your mother, friend or neighbour says worked for them. "There is an evidence-based reason why that medication was specifically prescribed for your loved one, and that is why it may not work for you, because the effect of the drug is different for everybody."

A patient's age, weight, sex, and medical history are some of things doctors take into consideration when deciding the dose of a drug.

In the case that you are taking other medications, for example, "one could cancel the effect of another or have severe side-effects, because medications interact with one another in the body," she explained.

This is why you may end up getting worse, rather than better.

2. Read the package inserts

Many patients fail to read the medication package inserts. Lister admitted, however, that they do seem complicated. She said there are three standard things to look out for:

  • what the medication is meant for –– i.e. is it for a migraine or a stomach ache?
  • how much you should take, and when should you take it in the morning and is it one or two pills, for example?
  • how to take the medication, e.g. is it safe to take it before or after meals?

3. Do not take more than the dose prescribed

Lister said there is a reason healthcare professionals prescribe certain dosages. If more is taken than prescribed, it could have adverse side-effects -- a higher dosage may not interact well with other drugs in the body, or your body may not be able to tolerate a higher dosage.

"All of this is evidence-based," said Lister. She advised people to see a medical professional immediately if they fall ill after taking more than their required dosage. "Be honest with your doc if you overdosed –– and also if you've been taking unprescribed medication."

4. Report any side effects

Many patients do not report any side effects they experience, sometimes, until it's too late. Lister strongly advised against this, saying everyone taking prescribed medication must report side effects, especially if they are not listed as "possible side-effects" on the medication box.

Reporting side effects also "better characterises the risk profile for that strand of medication," the doc explained. That's because clinical trials to test the medication are only done on a few thousand patients, so rarer side effects may not present in that sample.

"Reporting is a crucial part of ensuring that our global detection systems pick up any safety issues with products." This contributes to more effective treatment and safer drugs for all.

"Patient safety is enhanced by communication between physicians, pharmacists and patients on how the medication should be taken, and what side effects to expect."