What to Ask Your Doctor Before You Take Any Medication (#7 is especially important)

Staring a new medication can be a big deal, and it’s always worth getting some clarity before committing to a specific treatment. Whatever you’re being prescribed, here’s a useful checklist of 21 questions to ask your doctor before agreeing to a new medication.

The basics

1. What is the medication called, and how does it work?
Doctors have busy lives, and can all-too-often overlook providing this kind of necessary information to patients. As a patient, there’s nothing wrong with asking for a little clarification, just so you at least know what’s going on.
2. How long should it take before I see results?
One of the worst things about trying a new medication is the uncertainty. Sometimes, it’s impossible for doctors to give a clear, down-to-the-minute guesstimate of when your new prescription should start kicking in; but at least a rough idea is better than nothing.
3. How do I know it’s working?
Again, sometimes it’s not always clear when the medication is doing its job, but at least your doctor can give you a few positive signs to look out for.
4. How long do I need to take this medication for?
Knowing how long you’re going to be taking this medication can help you plan out your life while you’re on the prescription. Moreover, sometimes patients can be surprised to find out they may need to take a specific medication for much longer than they anticipated. This is why it’s always important to know from the first day how long you could be on the new medication.
5. How much does this medication cost?
Again, knowing beforehand how much the treatment will ultimately cost will help you plan out your next few weeks, months or years with a bit of clarity. The price tag may also prompt you to consider alternatives.
6. What happens if I don’t take this medication?
It’s better to know than to not know.

The Risks

7. What short and long-term side effects does this medication have?
You shouldn’t have to resort to Google to figure out what kinds of side effects your medication may have. Take the time to ask your doctor.
8. How common are the side effects, and how can I manage them?
This may well be the single most important question you ask. Some potential side effects may be immediate, while others could take years to manifest. Either way, you need to be able to anticipate possible problems well before they arise, and know how to manage them.
9. Can I consume alcohol while taking this medication?
A fairly commonly overlooked question, but the reality is many common over-the-counter, and prescription medications can interact dangerously with alcohol. Likewise, it’s essential that you ask your doctor if the drug interacts with any narcotics you might consume. It might not be fun to ask, but the risks of flying blind could be far worse.
10. How will this interact with other medications I’m already taking?
Just as you need to know how this medication will interact with alcohol and other recreational substances, you also need to understand how it mixes with anything else you’ve been previously prescribed. If you’re seeing your regular G.P., they should already know what you’re taking, but it never hurts to double check.
11. Does this medication interact with any other common drugs, such as painkillers?
Finally, it’s easy to absent-mindedly take a painkiller or Aspirin, only to find out later that it doesn’t get along well with your new medication. To save trouble later, be sure to ask your doctor upfront precisely what kinds of other drugs to avoid, and which are still safe.

The Practicalities

12. How and when should I take this medication?
Packaging isn’t always as clear as it should be.
13. Can I take this medication on an empty stomach, or after food?
Your doctor might have clear advice one way or the other; or, it might not matter so much.
14. Are there any foods I should avoid while taking this medication?
Some medications won’t work as effectively if your diet isn’t up to scratch. Make sure you know what you should be eating, and what you need to avoid.
15. What are some other brand names or identifiers of this medication?
This question is particularly important for travelers. While you should always ensure you have a reasonable amount of your medication whenever you travel, we all make mistakes. There’s no feeling worse than realizing you’ve just run out of your medicine, and you’re far from home. Whether you’re only a few states over or on the other side of the world, it pays to know how to get hold of an emergency supply of the medication you’re taking.
16. What should I do if I miss a dosage?
As previously mentioned, we all make mistakes. The trick is to know how to manage errors and handle a missed dosage responsibly and safely.

Digging deeper

17. Is a generic version of this medication available?
Generic alternatives can save you a massive amount of money in the long run. Get them when you can.
18. Are there any alternatives to this medication?
For whatever reason, the medication your doctor is suggesting may not be a good fit for you. Perhaps the side effects are intolerable, or maybe the costs are just too high. Sometimes, you might have no choice, and simply have to bite the bullet – but not always. If you’re not happy with a proposed medication, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for alternatives.
19. What about other alternatives, such as lifestyle or dietary changes?
While you’re at it, be sure to ask if you could avoid taking this medication with the help of alternative treatments. Your doctor may be able to advise you on available therapies or lifestyle changes that work just as well as the proposed medication.
20. Is there anything else I should know about this medication?
This open-ended question is aimed at ensuring you and your doctor haven’t missed anything important.
21. Whatever is on your mind.
Got a burning question about your medication not included on this checklist? Maybe you think it’s silly or inconsequential, awkward or downright inappropriate.
Ask it anyway.
The only wrong question is the one not asked.