6 Questions to Ask Before Taking a Prescription

Most people today realize the importance of taking an active role in their health care. This includes understanding their disease or condition as well as deciding on an appropriate treatment plan. But many people may overlook the importance of asking questions about the medications their healthcare provider is prescribing. But being informed about the drugs you are taking is an important part of managing your health care.

In fact, anytime your healthcare provider writes a new prescription for you, you should ask a few questions before agreeing to take it. By doing so, you will not only better understand the medication you are taking and how to use it, but you also will learn why you need to take it and what to expect.

When you ask questions about a new prescription, you are becoming an active participant in your health care. No one should ever blindly take a drug just because the healthcare provider says to. Instead, decide together what is right for your situation. Here are the top six questions to ask your healthcare provider the next time he suggests you take a certain pill or medication.

Doctor discussing prescription drugs with patient
UpperCut Images / Getty Images

1. What Will Happen If You Don’t Take This Medication?

While this may seem like a strange question to ask, it is probably the most important one. In fact, research suggests that more than 50% of prescriptions are either taken incorrectly or not at all. As a result, you need to know what will happen to your body if you decide not to follow the treatment plan or if you take the medication incorrectly.

For example, if you have high blood pressure and do not take your medication, you are putting yourself at a greater risk for a heart attack. If you stop taking your antibiotics once you start feeling better, you run the risk of the infection returning or not going away completely.

While there are some prescriptions where you can wait and see if you need to take the medication, there are others that need to be taken exactly as prescribed. Be sure you know what could potentially happen if you hold off on taking your prescription.

2. Is Taking This Drug Your Only Option?

Sometimes taking a pill is not the only solution for your disease or condition. For instance, those with mild depression can sometimes benefit just as much from exercise as from taking an antidepressant. Some people with type 2 diabetes can reverse their condition by losing weight, increasing their activity, and reducing the number of carbs they eat.

When your healthcare provider offers to write a prescription, be sure to ask if other options are available. Making an informed decision about your condition requires gathering information about all the options available to you. This way, you can choose a treatment plan that best fits your situation.

3. What Are the Risks and Benefits of Taking This Drug?

All medicines have benefits and risks. Be sure to ask about the prescription's side effects, as well as any interactions it may have with your current medications and supplements. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist whether the anticipated benefits outweigh any risks associated with this medication.

It also is a good idea to ask about any warnings associated with the medication as well as the most common side effects. Some medications have proven over time to have a lot of adverse or dangerous side effects. When this is the case, the drug is given a Black Box Warning. This type of warning appears on a prescription drug’s label and is designed to call attention to serious or life-threatening risks.

A Black Box Warning is the strictest warning used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in labeling prescription drugs. It is used when there is reasonable evidence that there is a serious hazard associated with the drug, such as serious injury or even death. As with any prescription, the risks versus the benefits should be weighed before taking the drug.

4. How Common Are Allergic Reactions?

Some medications, particularly antibiotics, cause allergic reactions in patients. If you've experienced an allergic reaction to a medication in the past, be sure to tell your healthcare provider. Sometimes a prescription might be in the same family of drugs that caused your allergic reaction. Other times, it may be a drug that has a very low incidence of allergic reaction. Either way, it is a good idea to know how common allergic reactions are.

Keep in mind, allergic reactions to medications often require the use of antihistamines and steroids to control your body's response. They may even result in a trip to the emergency room. What's more, they require you to switch to a new medication which can delay your treatment. Knowing your risk of an allergic reaction can save you a lot of headaches down the road.

5. How Effective Is This Drug?

Before you agree to take any medication, it is important to know what you can expect from the drug. In other words, will this drug cure your condition or just treat the symptoms? It is also important to know what the drug does to help your condition. For instance, some medications for type 2 diabetes will lower blood sugar but do nothing to prevent heart disease, which is the number one killer of people with the condition.

Understanding how effective the drug is, as well as knowing exactly what it will do, can go a long way in helping you decide if the drug is right for you. If you find the medication your healthcare provider is prescribing isn't going to address what you want it to, explore other options with your healthcare provider.

6. How Long Do You Have to Take This Drug?

It is always helpful to know if this is a medication your healthcare provider anticipates you taking for the rest of your life. With chronic conditions, this may be the case. What's more, you may want to ask your healthcare provider what the consequences are for long-term use.

There are also some conditions like high cholesterol where a person can make lifestyle changes and no longer need the medication. In other cases, like a sinus infection or mild depression, you may only need to take a drug for a set period

Asking Your Healthcare Provider for a Specific Drug

If you watch television, you probably have witnessed the steady stream of prescription drug advertisements that end with the statement “ask your healthcare provider about XYZ medication.” As a result, many patients are doing just that. But there are some risks associated with that approach.

Following the ad’s advice may get you the drug you want, but it may not necessarily be the best option for you. According to a study done on direct-to-consumer advertising, 30% of Americans declared that they would talk with their healthcare provider about a medication they saw on an advertisement, and 44% of them said that their healthcare provider has prescribed that medication to them.

For instance, in the study, about 20% of patients who requested a strong narcotic like oxycodone were given the drug by their healthcare providers, while patients who did not ask received it just 1% of the time. Meanwhile, for knee osteoarthritis sufferers, patients asking for Celebrex were prescribed the drug more than twice as often as those who didn’t ask for it by name.

A Word From Verywell

While there is nothing wrong with asking about a specific drug to treat your condition, especially if you have done a lot of research, it is better to ask your healthcare provider what they think about the drug instead. Having a conversation with your practitioner about the drug maintains the partnership between patient and healthcare provider. It also allows the opportunity to explore other options without making demands.

If you think a different medication might improve your condition, talk to your healthcare provider about it. Ask what the side effects might be as well as the risks and benefits. The ideal scenario is that you make the decision together.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Sherri Gordon
 Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.