Whether you use one medication or fifteen, it is important to know exactly what your doctor has prescribed for youto make sure you get the right medication and dose each time. You should also know why your meds were prescribed, and how you are supposed to take them.
It’s unfortunate but true that many people don’t know what they’re taking, let alone why. Playing a proactive role in managing your medications may not always be easy, but you can look for help from your pharmacist, doctor, or nurse.
Why should you be concerned? First, remember that your prescription (especially if it’s a generic) can be made by several different companies, and it can differ in color, shape, and dosage form from one manufacturer to the next. There are several factors that can play a role in whether or not you receive your medication in the same color or shape each time you fill. Because the appearance of your prescriptions can vary, knowing your medications inside and out can help prevent confusion.
Some possible scenarios in which you may not receive the same color or shape of your medication:
- If you use multiple pharmacies. Different chains (or even locations) may stock different packaging of the same medication.
- Manufacturer backorder. Your pharmacy may need to use a different manufacturer to fill your prescription than you are used to so that you do not go without medication during a backorder.
- Dose increase or decrease. The shape and color of your prescription may change.
Don’t depend on the color, shape, or even dosage form to keep your prescriptions straight! You are not alone if you keep track of your prescriptions this way (for example: the white round pill in the morning, the pink oval pill at night), but many medications can look very similar. For this exact reason it is so important not to rely only on the appearance of your medication.
This is especially true if you are on a complex regimen where you take many medications—it’s more likely that you may have some that look alike.
Examples of common medications that people often try to remember by appearance:
- Warfarin (generic Coumadin, a blood thinner). Tablets may be brightly colored, pink, green, blue, purple, etc, and oval or oblong—but the shade or exact shape can vary depending on the manufacturer.
- Levothyroxine (along with Synthroid and other thyroid meds). Most brand and generic levothyroxine medications have distinct colors for each strength, but all Synthroid tablets are round. Generic levothyroxine has much more variation in both shape and color.
- Trazodone (generic Desyrel, for depression). Both the brand and generic come in some distinctive shapes like bars and trapezoids—but most strengths and forms are still white, round or oval tablets, easy to mistake for other medications.
- Sertraline (generic Zoloft, for depression and other mental health conditions). Again, both the brand and generic come in some fairly distinctive oval shapes, but others are standard beige or blue oval tablets.
- Inhalers. This can be especially important if you have a both a maintenance inhaler and a rescue inhaler (for asthma, for example). While your inhalers may look different—Advair Diskus for maintenance, and Proventil HFA or Proair HFA for rescue—you should still always be able to keep them straight by more than appearance.
What are some good ways to keep track of your medications?
- Make a list and keep it up-to-date. Take the time to sit down and create a current list of your medications. This will help you get organized and play an active role understanding your medications.
- For each medication, your list should include:
- Medication name
- Strength and dosage
- Prescribing doctor
- Don’t try to go on memory alone. Line up your prescription and over-the-counter medications in front of you while you create your list.
- Don’t know a medication’s intended use? Contact your pharmacist for more information.
- Don’t forget to include any over-the-counter medications. This means vitamins and minerals, herbal treaments, topical ointments or creams, and seasonal meds like OTC allergy drugs.
Keep your up-to-date medication list on you and bring it with you to all health care appointments. Your list will help give you a reference if you have questions about your prescriptions, or if you forget what you are taking and why.
It’s also important to remember to keep your list current and update it when there are any changes, including dose increases or decreases, changes to your directions, or you start or stop taking a medication.