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Questions to ask before taking a medicine

3-minute read

Asking questions about your treatment or medicine is important to help you understand your options. You have a right to ask your pharmacist or doctor about the medicines that you are prescribed, so don't feel shy. It also helps you to know what to expect if you take a medicine, stop taking it or don't take it at all.

What are the alternatives to this medicine?

Find out what to expect when you take any new medicine your doctors prescribe. There may be other medicines to consider for your condition. Some medicines may be more effective, but have a greater risk of side effects.

It is important to compare the balance of benefits and risks for each medicine option. The cost of medicine may also vary widely, so you may want to ask if there are cheaper alternatives.

Are there treatment options other than a medicine?

In some cases, medicine may not be the only or best approach to improve your condition. Sometimes all you need is to make lifestyle changes, for example quit smoking, lose weight (if you are overweight) or do the recommended minimum of at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.

For some conditions, there might be other options such as physiotherapy, counselling, surgery or more.

What happens if I choose not to have the medicine?

You might decide you don't want to take a medicine at all. You might think that you don't want to risk the side effects, or that you can't afford it, or that you'll get better anyway.

That is your right. But it's worth knowing that with some conditions, you will get quite unwell if you don't take a prescribed medicine.

Some questions to ask your doctor or pharmacist about the medicine

  • What are the likely benefits of this medicine for me?
  • What side effects should I be aware of?
  • Are there simpler and safer options?
  • If I take the medicine, will my condition progress faster or stay the same?
  • If I don't take the medicine, will my condition progress faster or stay the same?
  • If I don't take the medicine, will that affect my quality of life?
  • If I don't take the medicine, will it increase my risk of future disease?

How long will I need to continue the medicine?

Some medicines are taken for a short period, but others are taken for life.

For example, antibiotics are usually taken for a limited time, but they need to be taken for as long as prescribed to avoid antibiotic resistance.

Always check with a healthcare professional if you plan to stop taking a medicine. Suddenly stopping some medicines, such as antidepressants, might also cause certain symptoms.

Here are some more questions to ask your doctor before you start taking the medicine.

  • Is the medicine for a short duration or is it expected to be for life?
  • If I feel better, can I just stop taking it?
  • Do I need to gradually reduce the dose or do I just stop?

What should I do if I have a problem with the medicine?

Ask your doctor or pharmacist:

  • Should I stop taking it straight away?
  • Who should I see if there are problems?

More resources

Question builder

A tool to help you create a question list for your doctor’s appointment. Go to the Question Builder, prepare your list, then print or email it so you remember what you want to ask.

Last reviewed: November 2018

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