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Managing Your Diabetes Medications

For many people with diabetes, staying healthy means having a full medicine chest and taking multiple medications. Each medication may be simple to use by itself. Yet combining several drugs takes extra care. Here’s how to prevent problems that can arise from drug interactions and medication errors.

Multiplying the risk

Having diabetes means you’re at increased risk for conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney problems, and depression. Along with your diabetes medicine, you may take other medications to keep these conditions under control. If you have health conditions unrelated to diabetes, such as arthritis or asthma, you may also need to use medicines to treat them. You could end up taking many types of medicine every day. The more medicines you take, the greater the risk is for a medication mishap.

A drug interaction occurs when two or more drugs react with each other to cause an unexpected or adverse effect. Taking several medications increases the odds of a harmful interaction. In addition, when you’re trying to keep track of several pills, it’s all too easy to make a mistake. You might forget a dose, confuse one pill for another, or take pills at the wrong time.

A dose of caution

By working with your health care provider, you can reduce the risk of such problems. These tips can help:

  • Be informed. Know what each of your medications is for and how it should be used. Ask in advance about what to do if problems arise.

  • Tell each of your health care providers about the medications you’re taking. Include nonprescription medicines as well as vitamins, supplements, and herbal products since these can all cause unexpected side effects. Prepare a list including each drug’s name, purpose, strength, dosage, and directions for use.

  • Review the list periodically with your health care provider. Ask whether you might be able to discontinue some medications or replace them with more effective alternatives.

  • Let your health care provider know if you develop side effects. Also tell your provider if you’re having trouble following your medication schedule — he or she may be able to help.

  • Talk with your health care provider before stopping any prescribed medication and before starting any new prescription medication, nonprescription medicine, or supplement. Ask whether it's safe to combine the product with your current prescription or nonprescription medicines.

  • Create a checklist for marking down each dose of medication as you take it. Or, use a pillbox with compartments that organize your pills by day and time.

To help guide your diabetes management, doctors use agreed upon clinical standards that include medication use. Working closely with your health care team makes the effective use of these clinical practices much easier. With a little planning and the help of your health care provider, you’ll have a prescription for safer medication use.