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Why You Should Never Throw Away That Medication Package Insert

Maybe your daughter has strep throat, and her doctor prescribes an antibiotic. Maybe you’re refilling your birth control medication. Maybe your dermatologist prescribes a cream for an unwelcome adult acne flare-up.

Whenever you fill a prescription, you’ll also get important information about your medication. But the dense text can feel overwhelming to read—you might be tempted to just throw the insert out. Hold on, though. There’s crucial info on that package insert.

“It includes just about everything a patient or provider may want to know about the medication,” said Jenna Holtom, a population health clinical pharmacist with Banner University Health Plans in Phoenix, AZ.

What the medication package insert tells you

Holtom said these inserts contain:

  • The drug name
  • The available doses
  • How the medication is processed in your body
  • How the medication might affect people differently, such as children vs. seniors
  • A clinical trials summary
  • Contraindications (reasons not to take this medication) and precautions
  • Possible interactions with other medications
  • Adverse effects
  • Dosing and administration
  • Overdosage
  • Storage and handling
  • A boxed warning section, if needed

Can you answer these questions about your prescription medication?

When your doctor prescribes a medication, you should discuss key points. Make sure you understand:

  • How much to take?
  • How often to take it?
  • What time of day to take it?
  • Whether you should take it with food?
  • What are the side effects to watch for?
  • What to do if you have any concerns?

Your pharmacist can also answer any questions you have. The medication package insert supplements the information you get from your doctor and pharmacist, Holtom said.

What’s most important in your medication package insert

There’s a lot of information in these inserts. Holtom said the most important points are the contraindications, precautions, adverse reactions, and drug interactions. “These sections will be the most helpful, as they describe these items in detail,” she said.

For example, many medications can cause digestive problems like nausea, constipation, or diarrhea. If you start a medication and you experience these symptoms, you can talk to your doctor about alternatives.

Pay special attention to the boxed warning

Some medications have a boxed warning. These warnings are designed to catch your attention—they are printed in bold and surrounded by a border. That’s because they’re important. “They note that the medication has a significant risk of serious or even life-threatening adverse effects,” Holtom said. “This information is something every patient should be aware of.”

For example, certain types of birth control pills have a boxed warning that highlights the risk of cardiovascular side effects for women who smoke.

The storage and handling section also contains important information. Some medications need to be refrigerated or stored within a certain temperature range, so you don’t want to leave them on a sunny windowsill or in a steamy bathroom.

The bottom line

Even if you don’t want to read through all the information on your medication package insert, take a look at the key points, and hang onto it. That way, if you have a question about your prescription or a possible side effect, you can refer to it later.

Prescription medications are crucial for treating all kinds of health conditions. But there’s a lot to know about using them safely. Learn more about preventing overdoses, interactions between food and medication, and traveling with medication.

And, if you need to find a doctor to treat your health condition, visit bannerhealth.com.

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