- Types of Medications
- Medication Decisions
- Talk to Someone Now
- Getting the Most Your Medication
- Dealing with side effects
- Try to keep track of your progress
- If you are thinking about stopping your medication..
- Staying Safe
- What Medicines Are and What They Do
- A Rainbow of Medicine
- Medicines Can Replace What's Missing
- Medicines Help in Many Ways
- Pain Relievers and Symptom Soothers
- Many Ways to Take Medicine
- Mind Your Medicines
- Five tips for choosing a new primary care physician
- How to Talk to Doctors When They Don’t Listen
It is important to know the benefits of prescribed medications, as well as their potential side effects, and to talk to your doctor about any concerns that you may have. As you consider your options, it may help to know some basic facts about medication.
- Medications are not cures. Medications only treat symptoms, so if you stop taking them, your symptoms can return. Ask your health care provider how long you might expect to take medication.
- Every medicine has its benefits and its risks. Deciding to take medication is all about balancing possible benefits against possible side effects. Sometimes, it's hard to know how a medicine will affect you until you try it.
- Medications often help the most when they're part of an overall treatment program. Your plan may include psychotherapy, peer programs and rehabilitative services to help with problems that medication alone can't treat.
- It can take time to feel better. Some medications take a few weeks to work. And sometimes a medication's side effects may start before its benefits. You also may have to try more than one medication before you get the right fit, but many people find it's worth the wait.
Types of Medication
Talk to Someone Now – Pharmacy Chat
Getting the Most Medication
Types of Medications
Learning about your medication options can help you have a more meaningful conversation with your doctor. You also can be more fully involved in taking care of your health. Medications for mental health conditions fall into the following types:
Antipsychotic medications can help reduce or, in some cases, eliminate hearing unwanted voices or having very fearful thoughts.
They can promote thinking clearly, staying focused on reality, and feeling organized and calm. They also can help you sleep better and communicate more effectively.
These medications can come in pill form, which are taken daily, or in an injectable form that lasts between 3 and 6 weeks depending on the specific drug.
Possible side effects include: drowsiness, upset stomach, increased appetite and weight gain, blurred vision, constipation, dry mouth, dizziness, low blood pressure, restlessness, weakness, shakes and twitches, and muscle stiffness. Rare side effects include seizures and problems controlling internal body temperature.
Antidepressants help reduce such feelings as sadness or depressed mood and anxiety as well as suicidal thoughts. They do not, however, make people “happy” or change their personalities. The oldest form of antidepressants are called tricyclic antidepressants, but they are not prescribed as often as newer antidepressants SSRIs or SNRIs because they have more side effects.
Possible side effects include: drowsiness or insomnia, constipation, weight gain, sexual problems, tremors and dry mouth.
For people whose depression is resistant to treatment and do not experience relief from antidepressants alone, esketamine may be taken in addition to antidepressants. Esketamine is derived from the drug ketamine and works on different chemical receptors in the brain than antidepressant pills. It is administered by a doctor as a nasal spray.
Mood stabilizers help reduce or eliminate extremes of high and low moods and related symptoms. They shouldn't keep you from experiencing the normal ups and downs of life, though. These medications are also used to treat depression that lasts for a long time, that goes away but comes back or that isn't treated well enough with an antidepressant alone.
Possible side effects include: stomach problems, drowsiness, weight gain, dizziness, shaking, blurred vision, lack of coordination or confusion.
Tranquilizers and sleeping pills can reduce anxiety and insomnia and help you feel more relaxed. Although some of them are used mostly to help with sleep, they all might cause drowsiness. Usually, these medications are used only briefly because longer use can cause dependency.
These medicines are generally safe when used as prescribed and have relatively few serious side effects. As with any medicine, though, some people may have difficulties. You should call your doctor right away if you experience headaches, slurred speech, confusion, dizziness, nausea or increased nervousness or excitability.
Stimulants and related medicines can have a calming effect and help improve concentration and attention span in both children and adults. They also can improve a person's ability to follow directions and reduce hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
Possible side effects include: trouble falling asleep, decreased appetite and weight loss. Less common side effects can include headaches, stomachaches, irritability, rapid pulse or increased blood pressure. These often go away within a few weeks after ending use or if your health care provider lowers your dose.
When you're feeling overwhelmed or confused, it's understandable that you might want to let others make medication decisions for you.
But it's becoming clearer to researchers, providers and mental health consumers themselves that being actively involved in your treatment can make a real difference in your recovery. Talking honestly with your doctor is a big part of that process.
If you discuss your concerns and learn about your options, you are much more ly to come up with a plan that works well for you and for the life you want to create.
The following tips can help you decide about taking a medication:
- Get information. Ask your provider how the medication is supposed to help with your specific concerns. Also find out about any possible side effects. You might consider taking notes, since it can be hard to remember a lot of information, especially when you aren't feeling well. You also might ask a friend or relative to go with you for emotional support and to help keep track of important information.
- Talk with others with similar experiences. Self-help groups and peer specialists-people with mental health conditions who are trained to help-can provide great first-hand information. Local Mental Health America affiliate offices, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder are good sources for this kind of support. Remember that every person is different, but you can learn from the experiences of others.
- Think about your priorities and goals. Is relief from symptoms extremely important? If not, maybe you're willing to live with some symptoms to avoid side effects. What are your main life goals? How might medication help?
- Sometimes the only way to know if a medication is right for you is to try it. You may find that it helps you feel much better. If not, you can decide to stop later.
Talk to Someone Now
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Getting the Most Your Medication
Some people get relief from their symptoms immediately, others after a few days or weeks; for others it may take even longer. Medications differ widely in how quickly they take effect. After a short time on the medication, it's important to share with your doctor or therapist how you are doing with the treatment.
Remember to be honest with your provider. Tell him or her about your symptoms. Also make sure to tell the provider about any drugs, alcohol, over-the-counter or prescription medicines and herbal supplements you've been taking. That way you'll get the most appropriate treatment.
Dealing with side effects
If you're having trouble with a medication, or experiencing unpleasant side effects, don't suffer in silence. Your doctor or pharmacist will ly have suggestions that can help. You can use a side-effect checklist to keep track and quickly share information with your provider.
Sometimes side effects can be addressed easily. If you have:
- Dry mouth…Try sugarless gum or mints
- Constipation…Drink plenty of water and eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about over-the-counter remedies.
- Nausea…Take your medication with a meal.
- Feeling sleepy…Ask about changing when you take the medication.
- Problems with sexual functioning…Talk with your doctor about changing or adding medicines. Talk with your partner about what's happening.
Try to keep track of your progress
- Keep a chart of your medications and how you're feeling. That way you can make sure you're taking your medicines at the right times, and you can see how they affect your progress. You also might want to share your chart with your health care providers. It's very important that your providers have all your recent information so they can figure out how best to support your recovery.
- If you have any questions, consider putting them in your chart. It can be hard to remember everything you want to discuss with your doctor, especially if your appointment is short or you feel somewhat stressed about it.
- Hold on to your records. If a doctor suggests a particular medicine, you can check your records to see if you've taken it in the past and how well it worked.
- Keep track of who can help. Ask your doctor whom to call if you suddenly have troubling side effects. Pharmacists can be of tremendous help in understanding medications, how to use them safely, possible side effects and other treatment options. Give a list of your medications to a friend or family member in case of emergency. Carry one in your wallet too. Include the names of your pharmacy and your health care providers.
If you are thinking about stopping your medication..
There are many reasons people consider stopping their medication. Some people dis the side effects, feel that there's stigma about medication or worry about the expense. If these or other concerns are bothering you, know that you are not alone. Still, quitting is a big decision and can seriously affect your health, so think it through carefully.
Some possible steps if you're thinking about stopping include:
- Take a look at your situation. Consider whether changes in your life or your body may be affecting how well the medication is working. Ask your doctor if switching or adding medications might help. And ask whether stopping a medication creates a risk that means it won't work as well if you decide you want to go back on it later.
- Talk honestly with your health care provider. Some people feel uncomfortable raising concerns with their providers. Remember that it's your right to ask questions and make decisions. To help the conversation go smoothly, make sure you both have enough time to talk. State your concerns calmly, and try to agree on some reasonable next steps for promoting your recovery.
- Talk to the people who support you. They may be able to help you decide. Even if you don't want help with the decision, people close to you should know that you haven't been feeling well. That way they can provide extra support if you need it.
Following some basic guidelines will protect your health while taking medication:
- Avoid using street drugs or drinking alcohol while taking psychiatric medications. The combination can be dangerous and even deadly.
- Be careful while driving or using machinery, especially if your medicine makes you sleepy.
- Women who may become pregnant, are pregnant, or are breast-feeding should talk with their doctor about possible special concerns related to medications.
- Stopping medications abruptly may cause you to feel ill – and possibly could even cause a seizure. They should be stopped gradually and according to your doctor's instructions.
- If taking a medicine causes you to feel sick, have a fever, skin reaction or anything else that worries you, contact your doctor or pharmacist as soon as possible.
Ask Important Questions
To protect your health, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist the following questions:
- What is the name of the medication? Is it known by other names too? Is it a “brand name” or generic?
- When will the medication begin to work?
- What is the recommended dosage? How many times a day will I take it?
- Should I take the medication with food?
- What are the side effects that commonly occur with this medication?
- What are the less common but more serious side effects that can occur?
- Is this medication addictive? Can it be abused?
- Are there any laboratory tests that I need before beginning this medication or while I'm taking it?
- Are there any medications, foods or supplements I should avoid while taking this medication?
- How long will I be taking this medication? If I stop taking it, what are the chances of my symptoms returning?
- Is there any chance my symptoms will be worse once I stop?
- How soon will I see results?
What Medicines Are and What They Do
You've taken medicine before. How did it work to make you better? And how did the doctor know to give you the right medicine for your sickness?
Let's find out.
A Rainbow of Medicine
One medicine might be a pink liquid, another medicine might come in a special mist, another might be a blue pill, and still another might come a yellow tube. But they're all used for the same purpose — to make you feel better when you're sick.
Most medicines today are made in laboratories and many are things found in nature. After a medicine is created, it is tested over and over in many different ways. This lets scientists make sure it's safe for people to take and that it can fight or prevent an illness.
Some new medicines actually are new versions of old medicines that have been improved to help people feel better quicker.
Medicines Can Replace What's Missing
Sometimes a part of the body can't make enough of a certain substance, and this can make a person sick. When someone has type 1 diabetes (say: dye-uh-BEE-tees), the pancreas (a body organ that is part of the digestive system) can't make enough of an important chemical called insulin, which the body needs to stay healthy.
If your body makes too much of a certain chemical, that can make you sick too. Luckily, medicines can replace what's missing ( insulin) or they can block production of a chemical when the body is making too much of it.
Most of the time when kids get sick, the illness comes from germs that get into the body. The body's immune system works to fight off these invaders. But the germs and the body's natural way of germ fighting, getting a fever, can make a person feel ill. In many cases, the right kind of medicine can help kill the germs and help the person feel better.
Medicines Help in Many Ways
People take medicines to fight illness, to feel better when they're sick, and to keep from getting sick in the first place.
When deciding which medicine to give a patient, a doctor thinks about what is causing the patient's problem. Someone may need to take more than one type of medicine at the same time — one to fight off an infection and one to help the person feel better, for example.
When it comes to fighting illnesses, there are many types of medicines. Antibiotics (say: an-ty-by-AH-tiks) are one type of medicine that a lot of kids have taken.
Antibiotics kill germs called bacteria, and different antibiotics can fight different kinds of bacteria.
So if your doctor found out that streptococcal bacteria were causing your sore throat, he or she could prescribe just the right antibiotic.
Pain Relievers and Symptom Soothers
But while the antibiotic is starting to fight the bacteria, you might still feel achy and hot, so the doctor might tell your parent to also give you a pain reliever. Pain relievers can't make you well, but they do help you feel better while you're getting well.
Cream that helps a bug bite stop itching is another example. Your cold had to go away on its own, just the bug bite needed to heal on its own, but in the meantime, these medicines helped you feel less sick or itchy.
Many people also take medicines to control illnesses that don't completely go away, such as diabetes, asthma, or high blood pressure. With help from these medicines, people can enjoy life and avoid some of the worst symptoms of their illnesses.
Finally, there are important medicines that keep people from getting sick in the first place. Some of these are called immunizations (say: ih-myoo-nuh-ZAY-shunz), and they are usually given as a shot.
They prevent people from catching serious illnesses measles and mumps. There is even an immunization that prevents chickenpox, and many people get a flu shot each fall to avoid the flu.
Although shots are never fun, they are a very important part of staying healthy.
Many Ways to Take Medicine
Medicines are given in different ways, depending on how they work best in the body.
A lot of medicines are swallowed, either as a pill or a liquid. Once the medicine is swallowed, the digestive juices in the stomach break it down, and the medicine can pass into the bloodstream. Your blood then carries it to other parts of your body where the medicine works best.
But some medicines wouldn't work if the stomach's digestive juices broke them down. For example, insulin is given as a shot under the skin and then it can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Other medicines would take too long to work if they were swallowed. When you get an IV in the hospital the medicine gets into your blood quickly. Other medicines need to be breathed into the lungs where they work best for lung problems, some of the medicines used to treat asthma.
Still others work best when they are put directly on the spot that needs the medicine — patting ointment on an infected cut or dropping ear drops into a clogged-up ear.
Mind Your Medicines
So medicines sound a pretty good thing, right? In many cases they are — as long as they are used correctly. Too much of a medicine can be harmful, and old or outdated medicines may not work or can make people sick. Taking the wrong medicine or medicine prescribed for someone else is also very bad news.
You should always follow your doctor's instructions for taking medicine — especially for how long. If your doctor says to take medicine for 10 days, take it for the whole time, even if you start to feel better sooner. Those medicines need time to finish the job and make you better!
Reviewed by: Elora Hilmas, PharmD, BCPS
Date reviewed: October 2018
Five tips for choosing a new primary care physician
Whether you’re new to Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance, recently moved or are just ready for a change, selecting a primary care physician is an important first step toward managing your healthcare. Your primary care doctor is your medical “home.
” It’s the doctor you visit for most medical needs, including wellness visits and routine screenings, non-emergency illnesses earaches and sore throats, and the person you speak to about your health questions and concerns.
If you have an HMO, your primary care physician will also be the person who refers you to see a specialist.
Some patient-primary care relationships can span decades, while others will be short-lived because you change insurance or move.
No matter how long you plan to see your primary care physician, the relationship is an important one.
You’ll want to select someone you feel comfortable having honest conversations with, someone with expertise in the areas that meet your health needs, and someone who is “in-network” for your health insurance plan.
Here are five tips for choosing a new primary care physician:
1. Determine Which Doctors Are “In-Network”
Most health plans have negotiated special, discounted rates with certain doctors and hospitals in your area, and you will pay less pocket for visiting those doctors, who are called “in-network” for insurance purposes. Ensuring that you select an “in-network” doctor will help you avoid a surprise “out-of-network” charge or having to pay in full pocket because the doctor you’ve selected doesn’t accept your insurance plan.
To find a list of “in-network” doctors and hospitals, search the doctor directory or “provider finder” on your Blue Cross Blue Shield company website, or call the 1-800 number on the back of your member ID card.
2. Find a Doctor with Expertise that Meets Your Health Needs
Now that you have the list of in-network doctors, you can begin narrowing it down. There are several different types of doctor that will be identified as a primary care physician – typically Family Practice, Internal Medicine or General Practice. There are also doctors who focus on children, called Pediatricians, who will serve as the primary care physician for your child.
Family Practice – Family practice physicians are able to treat patients of all ages, from newborns to the elderly. They are generalists who can treat a wide variety of conditions, and often can also treat ailments you’d normally see a specialist for, sports injuries or some women’s health needs.
Internal Medicine – Internal medicine physicians typically treat adults and specialize in the prevention, diagnosis and management of disease and chronic conditions.
General Practice – General Practice physicians are family practice physicians and can treat patients of any gender or age. This category is one area where you might also find osteopaths, which are physicians that practice a type of alternative medicine with special focus on the musculoskeletal system, and are distinguished by the “D.O.” after their name instead of “M.D.”
3. Ask for Referrals
Many people feel most comfortable visiting a physician who is recommended by someone they know, a family member, co-worker or friend. Ask around and see what doctor your friends and family visit.
You can also ask another healthcare professional with whom you have a relationship, a women’s primary care physician, a pharmacist, or even your dentist for a recommendation.
If you’re moving, ask your current doctor if they have a recommendation for your new location.
4. Think About Logistics
Do you want a doctor located close to your home or office? Use your Blue Cross Blue Shield company’s doctor directory or “provider finder” to search for doctors with an office location that is convenient for you to visit.
You’ll also want to consider office hours – what days and times does the doctor see patients? Will you need to take time off work to visit the office, or can you go after work or on weekends? It’s also a good idea to check what hospital the doctor admits patients to.
Language is another important factor to check. You need to be able to communicate clearly with your doctor, so check which languages he or she speaks to be sure you’ll be able to understand each other. Many doctors now use email or an online portal to communicate with patients, which may be another item of importance to tech-savvy communicators when selecting a physician.
5. Visit the Doctor
Nothing can really give you a feel for whether you’ve selected the right doctor an office visit and a face-to-face meeting. Be sure you feel comfortable in the office and with the physician and nurses.
Your primary care physician should be someone you trust and can rely on to help manage your healthcare.
Talk with him or her about any current medications you are taking and your medical history to be sure you are on the same page when it comes to managing any chronic conditions.
When in the office, you should evaluate other environmental factors. Take into account the demeanor of the people who answer the phone and greet you when you walk in – are they efficient and friendly? Are the phones answered in a timely manner? How far in advance do you need to schedule an appointment? And how long is the wait to see the doctor after you arrive for your appointment?
If for any reason you are not happy with your choice, most Blue Cross Blue Shield plans allow for you to change your primary care physician anytime during the plan year.
Ready to get started? Find your Blue Cross Blue Shield company’s website and start browsing the provider finder today.
How to Talk to Doctors When They Don’t Listen
You’re in the room. That tiny one with the examination table, the sink, the little chair, and the fluorescent light. Your doctor, running late, finally pops through the door. Quick pleasantries are exchanged, and then it’s down to business.
You explain why you’re there. You go over your symptoms. Already, you feel you’re off to the races, and you’re probably right. Research says you get only seconds to talk before the doctor jumps in with a word, question, comment, or redirect.
It all seems so scripted. Does the doctor even hear what you’re saying?
Not all visits are this, of course. But many are. Studies show most complaints about doctors don’t have anything to do with their medical skills. It's mostly about poor communication.
A recent study found that 75% of doctors believed that they communicated satisfactorily with those in their care. Only 21% of the people treated by those doctors said that their talks went well.
Somewhere, there’s a disconnect. That can be devastating.
The more you and your doctor talk with each other — really, really talk — the better the chance you’ll feel better.
“I always tell my patients that we’re a team. It’s you and me, working together for the betterment of your health,” says Ada Stewart, a family doctor with the Eau Claire Cooperative Health Centers in Columbia, SC.
“We gotta work this together,” Stewart says. “You may not agree with all that I say, and if you don’t, then I need to know … But I think the biggest thing is to have that trust. To have that patient-physician relationship. That’s really important.”
But what if that bond isn’t there? What if you don’t feel you’re being heard?
How do you get your doctor to listen? Really, really listen?
Jot down some notes before you go. Have an idea of how you want your time with the doctor to go. Make sure you talk about what you want to talk about. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Follow up.
Even more, have your health story ready when you get to the office. And tell it, says Leana Wen, MD, a doctor in Baltimore and the author of When Doctors Don't Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests.
“Doctors end up asking about symptoms rather than the story. And [people] then get conditioned to talk about their symptoms instead of their stories,” Wen says. “Studies have shown that over 80% of diagnoses can be made just by listening.
“By that, they mean listening to the story, the open-ended story of what happened, rather than asking a list of yes-no questions,” she says.
Don’t go into that little office, Wen suggests, simply saying your chest hurts. Tell the story of it. For example:
- When it started
- If it’s been painful before
- What you were doing when your first felt it
- How it felt
- How often you feel the pain
That can really help clear things up.
“If a [person] were allowed to tell the story, they might also feel more listened to as well,” Wen says.
Leonard Reeves, MD, a family doctor from Rome, GA, says some old-school listening can really help your doctor.
“The old rule when I was in medical school, back in the old days of stone tablets, was that if you listen to the [person] long enough, they’ll tell you what’s wrong with them,” Reeves says.
Be straightforward and open-ended in asking questions, and be honest if you feel you’re not being heard. Some suggestions:
- “I’m worried that we aren’t communicating well. Here's why I feel that way.”
- “I need to talk with you about X. I feel I can’t. Can we talk about this?”
- “I know you're busy, but I need to talk about X with you. Can we get some time on the calendar?”
- “Can you help me understand X?”
Consider bringing a friend or family member to your appointment. Someone else may catch things you miss, or ask a question you haven’t thought of.
Be honest and accurate. Some people go to the doctor and don’t tell the whole truth.
“Things that they don’t feel comfortable with, mostly,” Reeves says. “Whether it’s use of illegal drugs or alcohol use. Maybe it’s sexual in origin. But you need to be able to build up that relationship between your physician and yourself that you feel you can tell them whatever you need to tell them.
“These things do impact your health.”
Ask about the best way you can contact the doctor with other questions.
Give feedback about the doctor’s care and your office experience.
Robert Arnold, MD, a doctor who heads the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Doctor-Patient Communication, says doctors and those in their care should do what nurses often do — a “teach-back” moment.
“At the end of the visit, [you] say to your doctor, ‘I want to make sure that I have it right. So what you want me to do is this,” Arnold says. “And what the doctor could do is say, at the end of the visit, ‘Just to make sure we’re on the same page, tell me what you’re going to do.’”
In addition to a lack of time, doctors face other barriers to good communication, including:
- Jargon that is often misunderstood by those in their care
- A general lack of, or perhaps a breakdown of, simple communication skills, including picking up nonverbal cues
- Fear of being sued
- Avoidance of emotional and social issues
- Cultural barriers between doctors and who they’re serving
- Feeling confrontational after resistance or questioning by those in their care
Doctors are trying to do their part to communicate better, following educational models with names AIDET — Acknowledge, Introduce, Duration (allowing an adequate amount of time to talk), Explanation, and Thank You — and RESPECT (Rapport, Empathy, Support, Partnership, Explanations, Cultural Competence, and Trust).
Some experts push the “Four E's” of effective health care communication: Engage (building a rapport), Empathize, Educate, and Enlist (inviting those under their care to actively take part in health care planning).
many doctors, Reeves remembers when doctors could take the time to truly listen to people’s problems. With all those barriers to good communication, though, with full waiting rooms and the burden of keeping electronic medical records, it’s getting more difficult every day to make that connection.
“We have gotten away from [good communication] because we’re so pushed to see the next [person],” Reeves says.
“If we can ever get it to the point where physicians can actually sit down, listen to the [person] and be involved in their care, rather than feeling you’re making widgets every day and you got to turn out the next one, then I think we, as a society, are going to be healthier and, to be honest with you, happier.”
If there’s a communication problem, though, it’s probably up to you to fix it.
And if you can’t?
“You should always find a doctor that you feel that you can trust and you think is listening to you,” Wen says. “If you don’t think your doctor is listening, how can you trust that he or she is making the correct diagnoses and treatment recommendations for you?
“I would say, though, that it is important to give your doctor another chance, because maybe there’s something that you can do, too,” Wen says.
“But if you feel you’re still not being listened to, maybe it’s time to look for somebody else who you’re more comfortable with.”
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Ada Stewart, MD, Eau Claire Cooperative Health Centers, Columbia, SC; member, board of directors, American Academy of Family Physicians.
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