Understanding medicines

Taking the medicines you are prescribed can help to make sure you make the most of your health and get on with your life. If there are problems with your medication, or it is not controlling your symptoms, you should tell your healthcare professional.

Image of medicine boxes

If I am at home, how will I get the medicines I need?

You will still be prescribed all the drugs you need, and there is generally a choice of ways in which you can get them at home. For example, you may be able to collect them from your pharmacy or have them delivered to you. The best thing is to talk to your GP, Clinical Nurse Specialist (who is specialist in your condition and its treatment) or pharmacist about what might work best for you.

How will I know what to take when?

You may be taking several different types of medication, which can make it confusing to remember what you should take and when. Your healthcare team will go through all of this with you. If you collect your medication from a pharmacist, they should also go through each of your prescriptions and explain what you need to do.

If your drugs are delivered to you, the person delivering them will not be trained, and will not be able to talk you through this information. All your medication will be clearly labelled with information about how much to take and when, as well as instructions on how to store it. If you are unsure at any point, you can always ring the pharmacy that provided the drugs, or your healthcare team.

If you are concerned that you will not be able to remember, there are different systems you can get to help you – such as a bell that rings to remind you. You can talk about these with your healthcare team.

How should I store my medications?

All your drugs should be clearly labelled with information about how they should be stored. For example, some drugs may need to be stored in the fridge once opened, whereas others need to be kept in a cool dry place.

Whatever the instructions, you should always make sure that they are kept out of the reach or sight of children – for example, by putting them on a high shelf in the cupboard or in a plastic container.

Pill organisers or 'Dosette boxes' can help you remember to take any tablets at the right times. They have separate compartments for days of the week and often times of day such as morning, afternoon and evening.

What if I run out?

Some drugs can be supplied for a month at a time and the pharmacist automatically renews your prescription. However, this is based on your existing prescription and won’t automatically change if your prescription changes.

Occasionally people do run out of drugs, sometimes because they have needed to take more than expected to control their symptoms. The best way to avoid this is to keep an eye on how much you have left and talk to your health professional about how much you are using.

If you do run out or are about to, you should contact your GP practice who can help ensure you have the drugs you need.

What if the drugs are not controlling my symptoms or I develop new symptoms?

If the drugs are not controlling your symptoms or you develop new symptoms, you should ring your health professional. They can change your prescription or start you on a new drug. If you have difficulty swallowing, then your GP or nurse may consider giving you an injection instead. In that case they will normally provide a box with your meds, syringes and needles in to keep at home.

They may also consider giving you a syringe pump which administers your medication continuously. This is carefully prescribed and monitored by your GP and Clinical Nurse Specialist. You can’t adjust the dosage, but if you are still in pain, you can ring the GP or district nurse, who can review your medication.

When someone is in the final stages of life, and has chosen to die at home, the healthcare team normally plans ahead for the medication they may need. They can make sure these are already stored in your home, so they are available as soon as you need them. These are known as ‘anticipatory medication’.

Please don't suffer in silence for fear of what you might hear. It was a bit like that with me, but if you need help say so, there are so many drugs out there that they can put you on something suitable for you.

'Side effects - don't suffer in silence' - quote from our Online Community