Tips for Understanding Medicine Labels

Posted May 8, 2012 | Posted in Health & Wellness

Medicine labels can be confusing. With significant differences between prescription bottles, over-the-counter medication labels and supplement labels, it can be difficult to understand what you should and should not do with your various medicines.

Medication labels, however, are regulated by the federal government’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As per the FDA’s guidelines, the following offers helpful information in assessing the labels of over-the-counter drugs, as well as prescription medications.  

For over-the-counter drugs, each label follows the same basic format and provides the following information:

  • Active Ingredient.  Therapeutic substance in product; amount of active ingredient per unit.
  • Uses.  Symptoms or diseases the product will treat or prevent.
  • Warnings.  When not to use the product; conditions that may require advice from a doctor before taking the product; possible interactions or side effects; when to stop taking the product; and when to contact a doctor.
  • Inactive Ingredients.  Substances such as colors or flavors.
  • Purpose.  Product action or category (such as antihistamine, antacid, or cough suppressant).
  • Directions.  Specific age categories; how much to take; how to take; how often to take; and how long to take.
  • Other Information.  How to store the product properly and required information about certain ingredients (such as the amount of calcium, potassium, or sodium the product contains)

For prescription drugs, the FDA mandates that labels contain a summary of the essential scientific information needed for the safe and effective use of the drug. Prescription drug labeling must be informative and accurate and neither promotional in tone nor false or misleading, and the labeling must be based whenever possible on data derived from human experience. No implied claims or suggestions of drug use may be made if there is inadequate evidence of safety or a lack of substantial evidence of effectiveness.

Additionally, for prescription drugs the container will be individually labeled for you with your name, your doctor’s name and specific dosage instructions for your individual condition. Follow these instructions carefully, and do not take prescription drugs prescribed for someone else.

You should be sure to read all labels and other information fully before taking any medication – over-the counter or prescription – to avoid dangerous reactions and side-effects that may result. For example, some medications can be dangerous when mixed with alcohol or other drugs. Consult with a medical professional if you have any questions.

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