Skip to Content
Home > Wellness Resources > Health Library > Prescription Medicines
There are many types of prescription medicines used to help people manage their health. Your doctor and your pharmacist are your
best sources to learn about your prescription medicines.
Guidelines for taking every kind of prescription medicine could fill a
whole shelf of books. This topic gives you basic information about antibiotics,
minor tranquilizers, and sleeping pills.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Antibiotics are drugs that kill
bacteria. But they only work against bacteria. They don't kill viruses, so they
won't work against a cold, the flu, or another viral illness. Unless you have a
bacterial infection, it's best to avoid the possible harmful effects of
antibiotics, which may include:
If you and your doctor decide that you need an antibiotic,
carefully follow the instructions for taking the medicine.
For more information, see the topic Using Antibiotics Wisely.
tranquilizers (such as Valium and Xanax) and sleeping pills (such as Ambien and
Sonata) are widely prescribed. But these medicines can cause problems such as
memory loss, addiction, and loss of balance. In rare cases, people who use them
have done things like drive or eat while they're still asleep. These medicines
also can cause a serious allergic reaction. So it’s important to use them with
Minor tranquilizers can be useful if you use them for a
short time. But long-term use often isn't very helpful, and it increases the
risk of addiction and mental problems.
Sleeping pills may help for
a few days or a few weeks. But if you use them for more than a month, they are
likely to cause more sleep problems than they solve. For other options, see the
Insomnia or Sleeping Better.
If you have been taking
minor tranquilizers or sleeping pills for a while, talk with your doctor. Ask
if you can stop taking the medicine or if you can gradually take less of it
over time. If you have felt unsteady or dizzy, have had any memory loss, or
have had signs of an allergic reaction, tell your doctor.
There are many kinds of bad
reactions (adverse reactions) to medicine.
Side effects. A side effect is any effect other than the one you want. They tend to be mild, but they can
still bother you. In some cases, side effects can be serious.
Allergies. Some people have strong reactions to
some medicines. These reactions can be deadly. To learn the signs of an
allergic reaction, see the topic
Medicine interactions. These happen when two or more medicines
or herbal supplements mix in a person's body and cause a bad reaction. The
symptoms can be severe and may be wrongly diagnosed as a new illness.
Medicine-food interactions. These happen when
medicines react with food. Some drugs work best when you take them with food,
but others should be taken on an empty stomach. Some medicine-food interactions
can cause serious symptoms.
If you take too much of a medicine, it may trigger an adverse reaction. This can especially be a problem for people of small size and older adults. Sometimes the typical adult dose is too much for these people. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
Long-term use of some medicines can lead to dependency. You may have a severe
reaction if you stop taking the medicine all at once. Find out from your doctor if a medicine may be addictive. To learn more,
see the topic
Alcohol and Drug Problems.
Decision Points are designed to guide you through key
health decisions, combining medical information with your personal information
to make a wise health decision. For help in learning the pros and cons of certain medicines, see a list of Decision Points About Medicines.
No matter what type of medicine you take, make sure to follow your doctor's advice about how to take it. And find out the safest way to throw away medicines that are expired or no longer used. Use these drug disposal tips to help prevent people and animals from taking medicines that aren't intended for them:
Only a few medicines should be flushed down the sink or toilet if you can't use a take-back program. To see a list from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, go to www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/EnsuringSafeUseofMedicine/SafeDisposalofMedicines/ucm186187.htm#MEDICINES.
This website has health information for
people of all ages. Topics include the following: medicines, food and nutrition, medical
devices, cosmetics, and animal health. Spanish materials are also
Other Works Consulted
Lorig K, et al. (2006). Managing your medicines. In Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, 3rd ed., pp. 239–253. Boulder, CO: Bull.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2011). Disposal of unused medicines: What you should know. Available online:
March 9, 2012
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Theresa O'Young, PharmD - Clinical Pharmacy
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
To learn more visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.