Questions you should ask about your prescriptions

You may be able to take fewer medicines and pay less for the ones you do take by simply asking questions.

Many people figure they are prescribed a medication for a good reason, and don’t ask why. But sometimes there’s another option — some conditions can be controlled through diet and exercise, for example.

You can hear from a real, live Alaskan who whittled his prescriptions down substantially by asking what they were all for at (Success Stories video #2).

Questions for your provider(s)

Every time you get a new prescription, ask these questions:

What is the name of the medicine and what is it for? Is this the brand name or the generic name? Is there another treatment option besides taking a pill?

Is a generic version of this medicine available?

Are there any tests required with this medicine (for example, to check liver or kidney function)?

How and when do I take it – and for how long?

When should I expect the medicine to begin to work, and how will I know if it is working?

What foods, drinks, other medicines, dietary supplements or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine? I’m sure your pharmacist will tell you anything important, like that you should avoid driving, but it’s still good to ask. If there’s some less drastic restriction, like not drinking grapefruit juice, you may remember better if you do the asking.

Are there any side effects? If so, what are they, and what do I do if they occur? Sometimes a few days of a mild side effect is to be expected, but it should pass, and you should keep taking your medicine during this time. Other side effects could suggest possible trouble and you should stop taking your medicine immediately.

Will this medicine work safely with other prescription and nonprescription medicines I’m taking? Will it work safely with any dietary/herbal supplements I’m taking?

Do I need to get a refill? When?

Do I need a new prescription to get a refill?

How should I store this medicine?

You can print a prescription question list to take to your appointments at Click on Take a Med Ed Class; then on Chapter 5, then on fact sheet.

Fall prevention

One common side effect —dizziness — deserves special attention because it increases the risk of falls. That risk goes up for people who take several medications.

Check with your provider or pharmacist if you’re experiencing sleepiness, dizziness or unsteadiness.

I’ll give more prescription-related fall prevention information 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23, at the Anchorage Senior Activity Center’s third annual Fall Prevention Day. Other speakers will present too. Details:

Want more fall prevention info? Have questions? Email Alaska Med Ed

If you would like a copy of my fall prevention presentation, or have a question for me, email

Lana Bell is a state pharmacist for the Alaska Pioneers’ Homes.