Are you using your medicine correctly?

There are many things to consider when using medicines. Before you start using a new medicine, find out the answers to the following questions:

Is the medicine suitable for me?

Before starting a medicine, you should check that the selected medicine is the right one for the purpose in question. This is particularly important when using over-the-counter medications.

  • Is the medicine intended for the ailment in question?
  • Is there something that prevents the use of the medicine, such as an allergy to a medicinal substance, other medication, or a chronic illness? Liver and kidney conditions, in particular, may prevent the use of certain medicines.

All medicines have factors that may prevent their use. You can be allergic to a medicinal substance or an excipient – for example, someone with a penicillin allergy cannot take penicillin (e.g. phenoxymethylpenicillin), or certain other antibiotics. Various chronic illnesses can also prevent the use of certain medicines. Liver and kidney conditions, in particular, must be taken into consideration when using several kinds of medicines because the medicines are excreted via the liver or the kidneys. Medicines you are already using may sometimes prevent the use of a new medicine because some medicines are not suitable for simultaneous use.

Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are a special group with regard to the use of medicines. The main rule is that there must be a determining reason for medication during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Medication that is important for the mother’s treatment should not be left out during pregnancy, as the worsening of the disease due to stopping long-term medication can be a risk to the health of the mother or the child. Special characteristics are also involved in the medication of children, and they must be taken into consideration before beginning to use the medicine. Factors preventing the use of a medicine can always be found on the package leaflet.

How much medicine should I take?

The desired efficacy cannot be achieved with the medicine without a sufficiently high dose. On the other hand, doses that are too high may cause adverse reactions, even poisoning. The doses of prescription medicines are always individual. The instructions for use found in the packages of the over-the-counter medicines indicate how much of the medicine you can take at one time and what the maximum daily dose is. For children, precise doses have been determined based on their age and possibly also their weight.

  • A dose that is too low does not achieve the desired efficacy, while a dose that is too high can cause adverse reactions.
  • The doctor writes the instructions for the use of a prescription medicine individually.
  • The instructions for the use of an over-the-counter medicine available from pharmacies without a prescription can be found in the package
  • Children’s dose is determined by age and, possibly, weight.

A single dose means the amount of medicine you take at one time. When taking medicine, take the dose specified in the doctor’s instructions or the single dose marked on the package of an over-the-counter medicine. A single dose of a medicine may sometimes also vary. If necessary, you can take one or several doses of a quick-relief asthma medicine according to your symptoms, for example – however, you must keep the maximum daily dose in mind. For courses of antibiotics, a single dose may be two tablets on the first day and one tablet per day after that.

The number of times you take medicine each day varies by medicine. The effect of some medicines lasts the entire day, making one dose per day enough. With other medicines, it is essential that the medicine is taken several times per day so that you can ensure that the effect of the medicine remains level throughout the entire day. In the case of certain antibiotics, for example, up to 3 or 4 single doses are taken every day. The single dose and the number of times per day together indicate the medicine’s daily dose, or how much of the medicine you either must or can at the most take per day.


1–2 tablets 3–4 times per day.

You can find this kind of instruction on a painkiller, for example. At first, you can try the medicine in single doses of one tablet. If the pain is alleviated, the single dose is sufficient. According to the instruction, you can also increase the single dose to two tablets if your symptoms are not alleviated by just one tablet. You take the single dose, or one or two tablets, three times per day if the pain does not go away. If necessary, you can also take the medicine four times per day. In this case, the maximum number of tablets you can take per day is eight tablets, however, not taken all at once.

In what way should I take my medicine?

The way a medicine is taken depends on what type of medicine it is. Tablets are taken orally, eye drops are applied to the eyes, and suppositories are inserted into the rectum. A doctor may also prescribe a medicine in a way that diverges from its original purpose of use.

  • Medicines are usually taken orally, but there are also medicines that are taken, for example, through the eye, ear, or skin.
  • There may be things to take into consideration even with simple tablet medication. There are, for example, tablets that should not be halved, crushed or chewed.
  • You should always check the correct use from the medicine’s package leaflet.

There may be things you need to take into consideration even when just taking tablets. There are many tablets that you must not halve, chew, or crush, and capsules you must not open. If you break a tablet, the medicine metabolises too early and may lose its efficacy or cause adverse reactions to the stomach lining.

You should usually drink water with all orally taken medicines. This prevents the medicine from getting stuck in your oesophagus and gets the medicine to your stomach quickly. With certain antibiotics, for example, drinking water and taking the medicine in a vertical position are particularly important in order to prevent the tablet from getting stuck in your oesophagus. Should the medicine get stuck in your oesophagus, it may cause burns to the mucous membrane of the oesophagus. A glass of water is a suitable amount, which is often expressed in medication instructions with the phrase ‘with plenty of fluid’.

Each pharmaceutical form involves things related to its use, such as how eye drops are applied, a cream is spread, or a vaginal suppository is inserted.

Indeed, you should always check the package leaflet for information about taking your medicine before you start using it. Sometimes the medicine is taken using a special dispenser. Medicines taken in this way include inhaled asthma medication and insulin shots injected under the skin. In these cases, you will first practice taking the medicine with the doctor or the nurse. You can later also discuss matters related to taking the medicine in the pharmacy. Asthma patients, for example, should have their technique for taking medicines inhaled into the lungs checked from time to time.

The what are pharmaceutical forms? pages provide instructions on how to use different medicinal forms

At what time of the day should I take my medicine?

You can usually choose the time of day you take the medicine so that it best suits your lifestyle. You should then connect taking the medicine to your own daily rhythm to make it easier to remember to take the medicine. In the case of medicines taken as required, taking them is not bound to any specific time; you take the medicine when the symptoms so require.

  • You can usually choose the time of day you take your medicine yourself
  • However, you must take courses of medicine and medicines intended for long-term use every day at the same time.
  • With medicine taken several times a day, you should check whether the medicine must be taken at even intervals. One antibiotic tablet three times a day, for example, means taking a tablet every eight hours.
  • Medicines taken as required are taken when symptoms cause trouble. Sometimes, medicine should be taken immediately after the initial symptoms, for example, in the case of migraine.
  • Some medicines are taken at a certain time of the day. Several cholesterol medicines, for example, are taken in the evening because the body generates most cholesterol during the night.

For example, you can take a painkiller when pain increases, and a quick-relief asthma medicine when you have an asthma attack. However, you should not exceed the daily maximum dose specified in the instructions. The time of day at which some medicinal substances should be taken is strictly prescribed, for example, when there are variations related to the time of the day in the body’s functions. In medication, these rhythms are taken into consideration in such a way that the medication is harnessed to support the functioning of the body as well as possible. For example, cortisone tablets are taken in the morning in order no to disrupt the body’s own cortisone production. 

Some medicines should be taken at a certain time of day to avoid adverse effects. As an example, diuretics (such as hydrochlorothiazide), which eliminate fluids from the body and increase the need to urinate, should be taken in the morning so that bathroom breaks will not disturb your sleep at night. It is good to take fatigue-inducing medicines in the evening, when their tiring effect can even be beneficial.


1 tablet 3 times per day.

In the case of antibiotics, you should aim to take the medicine evenly every eight hours around the clock. We recommend timing when you take your medicine so that you do not have to wake up during the night to take it, for example, at seven in the morning, three in the afternoon, and eleven at night. Taking your medicine as regularly as possible keeps the concentration of the medicinal substance in your system at a steady level throughout the course of medication, which ensures that the bacteria do not get the chance to spread again.

1 tablet once per day.

If this is a cholesterol medicine, take it in the evening, because the body generates cholesterol during the night. If this is, for example, antibiotics or birth control, you can take the medicine at any time during the day. The most important thing is to take the medicine at the same time every day.

Should I take my medicine with or without food?

Eating may increase, decrease, or have no effect on the absorption of a medicine. Generally speaking, medicines are absorbed quicker when taken on an empty stomach. However, the timing of when you take a majority of the medicines relative to eating does not affect the efficacy of the medicine. You should take your medicine during a meal, if this prevents adverse reactions, such as the irritation of the stomach caused by some antibiotics.

Some medicines are used to treat eating-related problems, in which case the time they should be taken is defined precisely relative to eating. Sucralfate taken for heartburn, for example, is taken one hour prior to eating if the heartburn is related to a stomach or duodenal ulcer, and one hour after eating if the heartburn is related to esophagitis.

The relationship between medicine and a meal is described with a variety of terms

Taking on an empty stomach can be ensured by taking the medicine one hour prior to eating, which gives the medicine time to be absorbed from an empty stomach before a meal. If you are to take a medicine only after eating, you must wait two to three hours after a meal to give time for the food to exit your stomach.

Before a meal means that the medicine is taken around 15 to 30 minutes before eating. These kinds of medicines include bolus insulins, a type of diabetes medicine.

You follow the instruction to take a medicine together with a meal if you eat a sandwich, for example, when taking the medicine. A larger meal is, therefore, not always necessary.

For how long should I take the medicine?

The duration of the course of medication depends on the illness treated with the medicine. It is important to find out whether you can assess the duration of the medication yourself, whether the medicine is intended to be taken as a course, how soon after the disappearance of the symptoms you can stop taking the medication, or whether it is a long-term, perhaps even a lifetime medicinal treatment.

  • Medicines taken as required include anti-inflammatory analgesics used for headaches. If you have to use this kind of medicine continuously, you should visit the doctor’s office for an evaluation of the symptom.
  • Antibiotics are a typical medication taken as a course.
  • Long-term medication is intended to be used for the entire duration of the illness. A diabetes patient, for example, will take insulin for his or her entire life.

Medicines taken as required are used temporarily, and often a single dose is enough to alleviate the symptom, such as a painkiller taken for a headache. There are also medicines taken as required that you have to use for a certain time in order to achieve the necessary efficacy. Some heartburn medicines, for example, require a treatment period usually at least one week in length to achieve the desired effect. The recommended duration of treatment is stated in the package leaflet of the medicine. The doctor often also provides instructions on the length of the treatment period. When using a medicine taken as required, you must take into consideration the maximum daily dose that you must not exceed.

Antibiotics are a typical medicine taken as a course. A course means that the antibiotics, for example, must be taken until the end of the course. Indeed, the doctor often includes the words “complete the course” in the prescription instructions to emphasise this. Leaving a course of antibiotics unfinished may result in some of the bacteria staying alive instead of being killed. In such a case, there is also the risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria developing.

The need for medication does not necessarily end even if the symptoms are alleviated. Depression, for example, is this kind of illness; its medical treatment relieves the patient’s condition after a couple of weeks of use. The treatment must, however, be continued for the treatment period agreed with the doctor, as stopping to take the medicine may cause the depression to relapse. On the other hand, it is important not to continue a treatment intended to be short-term for too long, because the overuse of medicine may cause, depending on the medicine, mild or more serious adverse reactions, or your system may become acclimated to the medicine. The long-term use of sleep medication intended for temporary use, for example, may lead to an addiction.

Long-term medications are intended to be taken as long as the condition exists. Conditions requiring long-term medication include asthma and high blood pressure. You should not stop taking medicines intended for a long term on your own without consulting a doctor, because a sudden interruption in taking some medicines may lead to the illness getting worse. Lifestyle changes sometimes help achieve the goal of the treatment, even to the degree that long-term medication can be stopped. This can occur when, for example, a person with high blood pressure loses weight and his or her blood pressure decreases to a normal level as a result.

What other things must I take into consideration when taking medicine?

There are also particular things to take into consideration when using certain medicines.

  • The package leaflet will mention if there is something special about using the medicine
  • With some medicines, you cannot, for example, use dairy products or sunbathe

Additional instructions are usually given when a specific procedure can be used to achieve better efficacy or avoid adverse reactions. These may include avoiding milk or being aware of the medicine’s interactions with alcohol or other medicines. Sunlight together with some medicines may also cause adverse reactions, usually skin that burns easily in the sun. You should also find out what to do if you forget to take your medicine.

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