Before you pop that pill...

It is crucial to know what drugs you are taking, the possible side effects and how to store them properly.
It is crucial to know what drugs you are taking, the possible side effects and how to store them properly.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

...make sure you read the medicine information leaflet for cautions on using drug

Do you read the medicine information leaflet before you take medication? Most of us don't.

But, given that about one in 20 prescriptions contains an error, ranging from the harmless to the dangerous, we should read the leaflet before popping the pill. Here is a guide to reading the leaflet.

What is drug X and what is it for?

Prescribers can get your name wrong, mix up drugs and give you a drug for constipation when you said you had diarrhoea. Pharmacists are great at picking up errors, but it is your health on the line, so check.

Before you take drug X

Read the first subsection, "Do not take drug X if..." as it includes warnings about allergic reactions, conditions such as diabetes or epilepsy that may worsen if you take the drug, and potentially dangerous interactions with other medication.

"Warnings and precautions" are are also worth a read.

Lots of drugs are labelled as being unsuitable for kids and pregnant or breastfeeding women - often because they have not been tested in those groups rather than because they are known to be dangerous. Ask the pharmacist if you are unsure.

Read the bit about "driving and using machines" because it is dangerous to ignore it.

The bit about "drug X with food and drink" could be useful. Some drugs need to be taken with or after food to avoid stomach ulcers; others need to be taken on an empty stomach so they are fully absorbed.

How to take drug X

This tells you when and how often, but this is written on the packet so you can skip this section.

If you take more drug X than you should ...

You don't need to read this unless you do.

Possible side effects This section may deter many people from taking the drug. You may not need to read it unless you have developed unexplained, worrying symptoms after starting the drug.

If it seemed clear that the symptom began after starting the drug, with no other likely explanation, it could be assumed as a side effect, whether it is on the list or not.

How to store drug X

Most drugs should be in a cupboard, out of reach of kids and pets. Not in the fridge, or oven or wet places. Give surplus medication back to a pharmacist.

What drug X contains

This states the chemical composition and is generally for chemists, geeks and the bored.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2017, with the headline 'Before you pop that pill...'. Print Edition | Subscribe