When is the best time to take my medication?

Patient’s Guide: When to Take Your Medication, Prescription or Treatment

If you take a prescription drug or medication, when is the best time to take it?

Most patients try to squeeze in medications around our work schedules or daily routines. For other patients, it’s simply a matter of taking our medications whenever we can remember to.

Our daily responsibilities can take their toll and interfere with a disciplined medication schedule. It’s not always easy. In an effort to help patients with their medications, here’s some advice to remember.

Take as Directed: Follow the Precise Advice of Your Doctor

The most important thing for every patient to remember is to follow the specific instructions of your doctor, care provider, or pharmacist. Your doctor understands your medical history and unique treatment needs. If your doctor has prescribed a specific schedule, it’s critical to follow that advice.

Following your doctor’s instructions includes taking medications for the full length of time prescribed. Many medicines and treatments lose their effectiveness if a patient fails to complete the full course of treatment.

“It is tempting to stop taking an antibiotic as soon as you feel better,” the Mayo Clinic reminds patients on its website. “But the full treatment is necessary to kill the disease-causing bacteria. Failure to do so can result in the need to resume treatment later and may promote the spread of antibiotic-resistant properties among harmful bacteria.”

Medication Adherence: Follow the Treatment Regime for Your Disease

Thanks to advancements in innovation, many diseases, once thought fatal, have become treatable. For example, HIV treatments are helping patients live long and fulfilling lives. But, that’s only possible when patients diligently follow an HIV regimen.

Medication adherence, according to the National Institutes of Health, means sticking firmly to a schedule — every day and exactly as prescribed.

“Medication adherence reduces the risk of drug resistance and treatment failure,” the NIH explains in it tips for “Following an HIV Regimen.” “Before starting an HIV regimen, tell your health care provider about any issues that can make adherence difficult, such as lack of health insurance or alcohol or drug abuse.”

Time of Day: Time to Take Medication

Medications can be more effective at different times of day. For example, one common directive is to take medication with 8 ounces of water, on an empty stomach, 30 minutes before eating.

Claire C. of California switched her medication from mornings to the early evenings because she thought it would be easier for her. “At first it was fine but within a couple of weeks I was all over the map. I felt terrible. I didn’t know what went wrong.”

Her fluctuating work schedule kept pushing Claire’s medication later and later each day. Late lunches meant her stomach wasn’t empty when she took her medication in the evening. “It was just harder to control. It took me a few doctor’s visits with blood tests, and about two months to get back to normal. Now I have my morning ritual and I don’t mess with it.”

The solution: taking her medication first thing in the morning.

Identify Other Factors and Directives

If you look at your prescription bottle, you might see one of several directives:

  • Take one and one-half tablets daily
  • May cause drowsiness
  • Alcohol may intensify effect

At times, these instructions may make it difficult to balance your health with the requirements of daily life. Work with your doctor to make any necessary adjustments based on these warnings. In some cases, this may require adjusting your dosage to get the treatment that is right for you.

Drug Interactions: Identify Diet, Over-the-Counter Treatments and Other Medications that Could Interact with Your Treatment

Drug Interaction Report11% of Americans take 5 or more prescribed drugs at the same time. Always talk with your doctor or care provider about how medications interact with each other.

Drug interactions include over-the-counter medications for common ailments and other controlled substances.

Laura S. of California took her medication in the morning like clockwork, but her numbers weren’t improving. After reviewing her medications and supplements with her doctor, they discovered that the calcium tablets she was taking in the morning were probably interfering with her prescription. “Who would have thought that?”

Review your daily and weekly routine. Do you take a Sunday night sleep aid? Do you indulge in a few more glasses of wine on Friday nights? How often do you grab an ibuprofen for a headache or back pain?

Online tools, available at Drugs.com and Medscape.com, can help patients identify potential interactions. Remember: online tools can help spark a conversation but don’t replace the advice of your doctor or care provider.

Timing: Understanding Your Biological Clock

We go to sleep, we wake up, we get hungry, all in response to our circadian rhythms, the clock inside our bodies that is set to the sun.

Our biological clock can affect our health, such as through Seasonal Affective Disorder, Sundown Syndrome with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, fluctuations in hormone levels, brain activity, even cell regeneration, and of course, jetlag.

The effect of some drugs change depending on your biological clock. Always talk with your doctor or pharmacist about the best time to take any of the drugs you take regularly. You may find that when the timing is right, these medicines can work more effectively.

General Advice for Common Treatments

  • When to Take Bisphosphonates: To ease these potential side effects, such as an upset stomach or heartburn, take the medication with a tall glass of water on an empty stomach. Don’t lie down or bend over or eat for 30 to 60 minutes to avoid the medicine washing back up into the esophagus. When the recommended wait time is over, eat to neutralize the remaining medication.”
  • When to Take SSRIs: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are anti-depressant drugs. Because these can often disrupt sleep cycles leading to insomnia, they are often prescribed to be taken in the morning. However, because some patients experience drowsiness and or nausea from SSRIs, they might be better taken at bedtime.
  • When to Take Antihistamines: Common medications usually act over a 24-hour period and are best taken in the early evening. Hay fever symptoms typically get worse at night and can be worst in the morning.
  • When to Take NSAIDs for Rheumatoid Arthritis: Since RA tends to flare up in the morning, taking NSAIDs at dinnertime or bedtime provides more relief for those morning symptoms. However, if your worst pain happens at another time of day, it’s best to take the medicine that relieves the pain about six hours before you know your pain will be at its worst.
  • When to Take Antacids: The stomach produces more acid after dinner and through late night. Taking certain antacids 30 minutes before dinner means they will be working their best when acid production is at its highest.
  • When to Take StatinsStatins are a common treatment for lowering cholesterol. More and more patients find that statins can cause severe, painful side effects. Always talk with your doctor before taking a statin to identify whether you have the best treatment. Older types of statins work for shorter periods of time. Consequently, these older statins are most effective when taken just before bed.

About the Author: Jim Sliney, Jr.

Jim Sliney, Jr. is a freelance writer/editor and a student at Columbia University where he studies Creative Writing. He is a Registered Medical Assistant and writes educational and advocacy articles for patients with rare and under-served diseases. Jim volunteers for G-PACT.org where he serves on the board of directors and as Newsletter Editor. He is a native of the Bronx with strong country roots and, like most writers, is working on “a novel”. Connect with Jim on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

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