The labels of prescription medicines usually carry a lot of important information, such as the appropriate dosage and whether you should take it before food etc. Unlike over-the-counter medicines, the drug labels on prescription medicines are not regulated. Due to this, the labels of prescription medicines can be often really difficult to decode for laymen. Not being able to understand your medicine neighbours can lead to dangerous mishaps. Hence, it’s vital to learn how to read them.
How to read the label:
Different pharmacies follow different formats when it comes to prescription medicine labels, but they always contain the same set of information. They contain your name, your address, your phone number, the details of your pharmacy, your prescription number, the name and strength of your prescription, the date when your prescription was filled, how many times it can be refilled if at all, the expiration date of the medication, the quantity of medication that you have received and, the directions that you have to follow for the medication, such as if it has to be had with food etc.
The first thing that you will notice on your prescription medicine label is your name at the top right, and your address will be written right below that. This information is used by chemists and pharmacies to check your ID when you go to collect your medicine or refill it. This helps ensure that an imposter cannot use your prescription and get drugs that they are not authorised to.
Right next to your name, you will find your prescription number. It starts with RX. This detail helps the chemist/pharmacist locate your medication and its details. This number is also used by the chemist or pharmacist to identify your medication details when you go for refills.
On the right side of the prescription number, a date is written. This date stands for the date on which you got your medication first filled. This helps the pharmacy or chemist identify three things: the amount of time within which you have finished your prescription and if that coincides with the amount of time you were supposed to finish your prescription in, if the number of refills that you can get for your prescription is over, and it helps identify the expiry date for your prescription.
Name and Strength
Right below your name on the prescription label is the name of the medication that you have been prescribed and the strength of that medication. This detail helps you crosscheck your medicine with the one that’s on the prescription given to you by your doctor or healthcare provider and be sure that you are being given the correct medication. This is one of the most important parts of your prescription label as it not only lets you know if you are being given the right medication but also if you are being given the right strength of the medication as suggested by your doctor or healthcare provider for your requirements. Any mistake regarding this can have extreme ramifications.
Additionally, you can use these details to ask your doctor, healthcare provider or your pharmacy for more details about the medication that you have been prescribed, such as whether it is a generic or brand-name medication, what it does etc. In case you have been prescribed a brand name medication and there is a generic option available you could consider switching, as generic ones tend to be cheaper. A generic medication has the same formulation and ingredients as the medication that you have been prescribed, for example, if you have been prescribed Crocin, you could switch to paracetamol.
Directions for the Medication
Right below the medication’s name and strength are the directions for taking the medication. This contains not only how much of the medication you need to take in one day, but also directions as to whether you should take it with food, if you should take it in the afternoon, etc.
If the directions specify that you have to take the medication once a day, that means you have to take it once every 24 hours. It is important to understand this distinction between the layman understanding of ‘day’ and the medical requirement of 24-hour difference. In the same way, if it says twice a day, it means every 12 hours; if it says thrice a day, it means every 8 hours and so on.
As for how you should have it, if it specifies that you should have it with meals, it means that you should take it with the first bite of your food. If it asks you to have it as directed, then you should follow your healthcare provider or doctor’s instructions, and if it says “as needed”, then you’re only supposed to have it if you’re feeling unwell.
Quantity of Medication and Refills:
Below the medication name and strength, on the left is the quantity of the medication denoted by the letters QTY followed by a number. This specifies how many pills should be in your bottle. On the right of that is the number of times you can refill this bottle after the first time you receive the medication- denoted by the letters RF and followed by a number. It may also say “no refill” in cases where you aren’t allowed to refill the bottle again.
Make sure to get your medication(s) refilled on time to ensure that there is no situation created where you need the medication and none is available, as well as to ensure that your insurance covers the medication.
Doctor’s Name and Expiration Date
At the bottom of the label, you’ll find the name of your doctor or healthcare provider who has prescribed the medication to you. You can refer to this doctor whenever you have any questions regarding the medications prescribed to you or you want to change your medication etc. On the right of that, denoted by the words ‘used by’ and followed by a date is the expiration date for the medication.
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