MOBE | 7 tips for interpreting common terms on your medication labels.

7 tips for interpreting common terms on your medication labels.

Medications are powerful. They can help us stay healthy and manage medical conditions, but sometimes they’re hard to understand. All types of medications can come with confusing directions, warnings, disclaimers, and a ton of extra information. If you know more about your medications, you can make sure they’re safe and working well for you. In this post, we’ll explain seven common phrases and what they mean when it comes to your medications.

Tip 1: Decoding “take twice daily” and “take every 6 hours”.

Take twice daily typically means to take a medication approximately 12 hours apart each day. There are many different reasons for needing to take a medication multiple times per day instead of just once. It commonly means that the medicine releases the active ingredient over half of the day, so taking the dose two times is important in delivering the necessary amount needed to work. It can also mean it’s safer to take it in doses over the course of a full day, rather than all at once.

Be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist to give you specific times so it’ll be easier for you to remember. If the medication can be taken with food, it may be best to take it with breakfast and dinner—as long as they’re 12 hours apart.

Take every 6 hours means that the medication should be taken in four doses over a 24-hour period. This means every 6 hours you take a dose. If the medication can be taken with food, an easy way to remember is to take it at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and before bed.

Tip 2: Decoding “take as needed”.

Take as needed can vary from person to person and medication to medication. Essentially, it means that you should only take the medication when you really need it. For example, you may need to take a pain reliever like Tylenol when you’re experiencing pain. But you wouldn’t take it once the pain is gone.

Pay close attention to see if the directions say how often you can take as needed. For example, it may say “take twice daily as needed” or “take every 6 hours as needed”. This tells you the max number of times you can take it in a 24-hour period. Do not exceed that number even if you’re feeling like you need another dose.

Tip 3: Decoding “take on an empty stomach” and “take with food”.

Take on an empty stomach means the medication is properly absorbed and works best when taken without any food in your stomach. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how soon you can eat after taking a medicine on an empty stomach. A good rule of thumb is to avoid taking these medications within 2 hours of eating.

Take with food means exactly what it states—take this medication with some food in your stomach. It means the medication either works best with food or may have fewer side effects when taken with food. If you don’t want to take it with a meal, a handful of crackers will work just fine. Some medications need to be taken with a large meal in order to be absorbed properly. Ask a pharmacist if your "take with food" medication has extra requirements.

Tip 4: Decoding “take as directed”.

Take as directed means you should follow the exact steps your health care provider gave when taking this medication. This will vary for each person and each medication. If you're unsure or don’t recall how your health care provider told you to use the medication, make sure to reach out. Or ask your pharmacist to call and get the specific instructions for you.

Tip 5: Decoding “store in a dark and dry place”.

Some medications can be sensitive to elements like sun and temperature changes and need to be properly taken care of so they work and stay safe for you to use. If a label says to store in a dark and dry place, it’s because the medication can start to break down from light, humidity, water, and heat. You want to avoid storing medications with this label in direct sunlight, steamy rooms, or places that have temperature swings.

Even though some bathrooms have a medicine cabinet, it’s not a great place to keep medications because shower and bath steam can cause damage. Be sure to avoid keeping your medications in your car in the hot summer months. Some good storage options include: a bedside table that’s out of direct sunlight, a kitchen cabinet away from the oven, or a desk drawer. Always make sure the location you chose is somewhere you'll remember to take your meds. Don't hesitate to ask a pharmacist for safe ideas.

Tip 6: Decoding “do not operate heavy machinery” and “non-drowsy”.

If a medication says do not operate heavy machinery, it’s because it is known to cause dizziness or drowsiness. These side effects can cause you to be less alert, which means you need to avoid anything that requires your full attention—including driving a car. If you work in an industry that involves using heavy machinery, make sure to ask your doctor about how this medication will affect your lifestyle and if there are alternatives. Remember: the warning is intended to keep you and others safe.

Non-drowsy medications may have ingredients that avoid drowsiness, so you don’t get sleepy. However, this doesn’t mean that non-drowsy medications will make you more alert. A common medication that can cause drowsiness is allergy medication. Ask your pharmacist about non-drowsy versions if that’s something you want to avoid.

Tip 7: Decoding “extra strength” and “inactive ingredients”.

Extra strength means that the medicine has an additional amount of the active ingredient in it than regular-strength versions. It’s important to pay special attention to the instructions for extra-strength products because they might not be the same as the regular-strength dose. For example, an extra-strength version may not be taken as many times per day. It could have multiple tablets in a single dose so only one may be needed. Reading the label and knowing which kind you're using is very important to safe medication use.

The active ingredients in a medication make the medication work the way it’s supposed to. Inactive ingredients make up the rest of the medication so it can deliver the active ingredients to your body.

Let’s keep decoding: chat with a MOBE Pharmacist.

If you’ve been working with a MOBE Guide, let them know that you’d like to speak with a Pharmacist. If you’re new to MOBE, check your status or call 844-841-9725. If you’re eligible for MOBE, a Pharmacist is available to you at no additional cost. We’ll help clarify your medication labels and answer questions about how your medications work together.