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Tips for Mastering Your Medication Regime With COPD

If you have COPD, chances are you're taking one or more medications; perhaps even quite a few. As your COPD progresses and if you start to have complicating conditions such as heart disease, it's even more likely you'll be on multiple medications.

When you have COPD, your mental status is sometimes fuzzy or you're tired, as can happen when your brain doesn't get enough oxygen. All of these factors can lead to medication errors. And medication mistakes can have a negative effect on your health. In some cases, they could even be deadly.1

Medicines are an important tool in treating diseases and health conditions, including COPD. Depending on the medication, they can:

  • treat the underlying cause of the disease
  • relieve or lessen symptoms
  • help keep your health status stable

And it's important to understand that medicines are generally safe when used as prescribed or as directed on the label. However, there can be risks in taking any medication, especially if they are not used correctly.2

The fact is, most medication errors can be prevented. So, in this post, you'll learn more about what can lead to medication mistakes and how to prevent them, so that you stay as healthy as possible.

What Is a Medication Error?

The National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention defines a medication error as:3

"Any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the healthcare professional, patient, or consumer."

The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports more than 100,000 cases each of suspected medication errors.3 Even more alarming, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that as many as one million emergency room visits a year can be linked to harm from medication use.2

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Some medication errors are due to mistakes made by health care professionals, but many are made by the patients themselves, or their caregivers. So, learning about medication safety can help protect you from harm.

Types of Medicine Errors

Here are some common types of medication errors that can happen in the home. They can include:

  • Mixing over the counter (OTC) medicines and/or supplements with prescription medicines. Sometimes the OTC medicine will have an ingredient that duplicates or works against the ingredients in the prescription. For example, if you take OTC acetaminophen (Tylenol) with a prescription pain medicine that has acetaminophen in it, this can lead to liver damage.
  • Mixing incompatible prescription medications. Ingredients in one medication may multiply or lessen the effect of ingredients in a different prescription, leading to unexpected results.
  • Forgetting to take a medication. Sometimes it's OK to take a medicine once you remember, but not always. There can be harm in taking two doses too close together. On the other hand, skipping doses is also not ideal.
  • Taking the wrong dose of the medication. Medicines are prescribed with your specific condition, weight, and age in mind. Taking too much, or too little of a medication can be unhealthy.
  • Mixing up medications with similar sounding names or that look alike. Most medicines have unfamiliar names, and some of them are so similar, it can be hard to keep track of which is which. Or, if you rely on sight, you could easily mix up meds that are similar in shape, color or size. Another example is confusing ear drops and eye drops. (I actually did this once, when I was rushing!)
  • Changing the form of medication. Not every medication can be chewed, crushed or mixed with food. Some are meant to be time released, meaning the medication is slowly released to your body over a period of time. Or, the pill might have a protective coating on it to prevent stomach irritation. Crushing or cutting the pill or emptying a capsule into food can change that.

Causes of Medication Errors

Medication errors can, and do, occur at any time or any place. But they are more likely in these cases:5

  • When you don't fully understand what medicines you should take, what they are for, how much to take or how to use them
  • If you have more than one doctor and there is poor communication among them
  • When you don't help keep your doctors updated on any OTC medicines or prescriptions from other doctors
  • Carelessness in taking the right medication at the right time

How to be safe with medications

Knowledge is your best defense against medication errors or harm from taking medicines incorrectly. Here are a few tips to help you stay safe.

Learn all you can about each of your medications. Each time your doctor prescribes a new medicine for you, make sure you understand everything about it. It's not enough to accept you need it on blind faith. Be sure to ask these questions:

  • What is the name of the drug (both the brand name and the generic name)?
  • Does it need to be stored in any special way (such as in the fridge)?
  • What is it for and how soon will it start working?
  • How much should I take and when should I take it?
  • What do I do if I forget a dose? Or if I take an extra dose by mistake?
  • If it's an inhaled or nebulized medicine, how exactly do I use it?
  • Are there other medicines, food or drink I need to avoid when taking this medicine?
  • What are the possible side effects, and what do I do if I notice any of them?

Create a master list of all your medications and bring it to every doctor's office visit.

Be sure to include every prescription medicine, no matter which doctor prescribed it. Also, list any OTC medication, herbs or supplements that you take. You can keep this list in your wallet or even on your smartphone if you have one. Be sure to share the list with each doctor, or if you go to the emergency room or are hospitalized. And be doubly sure to keep this list updated at all times.

Get all your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy.

Also, develop a relationship with your pharmacist. He or she can become a valuable resource for you in managing and understanding all of your prescriptions. If you use a mail-order pharmacy, be sure to check your deliveries carefully. Generic medicines from different suppliers may look different. You want to be sure you have the right medicine and the right dosage.

Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Managing a lot of medications can get confusing. Ask your caregiver, or a friend or family member to help you get organized, if necessary. I used to use a 7-day pill case to help my mom keep on top of her medicines. That way, all she had to do is open the box for the right day and time and take the pills out. Of course, you want to make sure your medication helper is also knowledgeable about all the factors listed above.

Check the medication label with every refill and every time you take a medication.

Don't rely on sight alone. Make sure you're taking the right medication at the right time. It's also a good idea to keep medicines in their original containers.

Never share medications with someone else.

Only your doctor or pharmacist can say for sure if a medication is safe for you to use. Don't ever take a medicine from a friend or family member or share yours with them. This can lead to real problems.

If you do make mistake, own up to it.

Mistakes happen; we are all human. If you take the wrong pill, miss a dose, or take too much, call your doctor or your pharmacist for advice. Quick action in these cases can prevent harm.

Mistakes happen

Mistakes happen. You can't always control mistakes made by other members of your health care team. But, being knowledgeable and proactive about all your medicines will help. And taking charge of your medication routines is the key to preventing your own mistakes.

Never hesitate to ask questions and to raise issues about possible medication errors. After all, you are the best defense against being harmed by medicine errors.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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