Ever throw away the official guide that comes with your prescription medications? When tossing, do the words, “Who reads this stuff?” or “WHO can read the small print?” come out of your mouth?

When I pick up a prescription, I toss the pages of instructions, disclosures, and warnings. But now I know that’s not a good idea.

Today, in my email box, a message read, “This is an excellent article written by one of our group members. It talks about the critical need to read the guide that comes with all newly prescribed medications. If the woman had not read it and questioned the physician and pharmacist, there could have been dangerous consequences.”

It’s a worthy story, and I want to share it with you.


Why you need to read the medication guides

It is a real event, and it happened to a woman, Irene, and her husband, Joe (fake names). Joe lives with depression and mild cognitive impairment, a form of dementia. It’s difficult to treat the two separately since the symptoms overlap.

He takes meds for depression, and that particular drug restricts the intake of many others, even the food he can eat.

But Joe was on other meds, in fact, several to address the cognitive decline. One day, Irene, read the dosing instructions on the medication box prescribed for dementia and saw, “don’t take it if you are on an MAOI drug — the kind that Joe’s taking for depression.

“Whoops,” she thought. Fortunately for Joe, no adverse reactions occurred.

Irene called Joe’s neurologist, but the doctor couldn’t work him in the schedule for a month. So, a primary care physician at the same practice saw Joe that week. During the visit, the PCP prescribed a different antidepressant with the order to stop the MAOI drug (drug 1) immediately and begin the new one (drug 2) the next morning.

She received a drug consult from the pharmacist at the drug store, and the pharmacist agreed with the instructions (dose and frequency).

But when Irene came home with the new drug, the guide explicitly ordered that if a patient was switching from drug 1 (an MAOI) to drug 2, a person must wait two weeks after terminating drug 1 to begin drug 2.

She called the prescribing physician immediately.

His remark, “Good catch!”

Thank goodness that Irene had the sense to read the guide in its entirety. I believe it’s equally important to read the booklets that come with over-the-counter supplements too.

Research conducted by the Archives of Internal Medicine, says that confusing and vague medication directions can undermine treatment.

They estimate that 80 million Americans are particularly vulnerable, struggling to understand medical details and related complexities with limited health literacy skills.

Researchers suggest that if you are confused about the instructions, to speak up and to ask your doctor. Let’s just hope your doctor has read the guide.


Carol Marak is the editor at SeniorCare.com. She’s earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from the University of CA, Davis. Contact Carol at Carol@SeniorCare.com.