What to ask before taking a new medication

Make sure you understand what you’re taking and why.

January 23, 2020


Medication can play a critical role in staying healthy or managing a medical condition. So when you’re prescribed a new medication, talk with your doctor and ask questions, including those listed below. This will help you feel more confident and know what to expect. 

How will this medication help?

Make sure you understand your condition and how this medication will make a difference. For example, should it make your symptoms better or get rid of them completely?

When and how do I take this medication?

Every medication is different. Some should not be taken with alcohol. Some might upset your stomach and should be taken with food. Others can make you sleepy and are best taken at night and never when driving or operating machinery.  

Also, some over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol and cold medicines can cause a bad reaction if taken with other drugs.

How should I store this medication?

Some medications need to be refrigerated. Proper storage helps make sure that your medication stays safe and effective.

Why this drug instead of a similar one?

Perhaps your prescribed medication has fewer side effects than others. Your doctor will also consider your health history or any other medications you may be taking.

What are possible side effects?

Side effects vary in how serious they are and their chances of happening. Also, age, weight, gender and other factors can play a role in how you react to medication. Make sure you know what to expect, no matter how rare some side effects may be.

Is this safe during pregnancy?

Some medications can harm a pregnant woman and her fetus. If you are not yet pregnant but plan to be, talk with your doctor.

What should I do if I miss a dose?

Missing a dose can make any medication less effective. Find out if your medication has special directions if you miss a dose, especially if the risks are high.

For example, missing one day of a birth control pill can increase the chances of getting pregnant. Missing two days in a row requires a week of using a back-up birth control method. 

Is a generic version available?

Some insurance companies don’t cover certain brand-name drugs, but will cover the generic alternative. Even if your insurance covers both, your costs can vary. Brand-name drugs can cost more than twice as much as a generic.


By Andrea "Annie" J. Ball, MD

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The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.