dahlia in my garden: Rio Fuego in Coleus leaves

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Protect Yourself from Your Own Medications

While doing research this week, I came across an article that deeply saddened me. It was about a 19-year old college student who appears to have died from using her asthma inhaler and epinephrine injector pen too many times on the day of her death. You can read the article HERE.

It’s a terrible shame for someone to die by use of the medications which help them to live a good life. Although the student’s death is still under investigation I couldn’t stop thinking about how easy it could be, as someone who takes powerful medication for chronic illness, to take too much by accident. 

I’ve never taken too much, but I have had days where I was so distracted or suffering that I have entirely forgotten to take my pills. I can imagine if I was having a really terrible pain day and was out of my normal routine, outside of my home, suffering and frantic, I might possibly forget how many pills I had taken. All the more reason to plan ahead and protect yourself from making such a deadly mistake.


1.)  Carefully discuss dosage with your doctor - and take notes
Be sure you understand your medication dosing schedule, whether you are using pills, injections, inhalers, patches, creams, drops, etc. Write down what your doctor says is the maximum dosage you are allowed to take. Ask what you should do if you are approaching your maximum allowed dosage but your symptoms are continuing to rage out of control: should you switch to a different (emergency control) medication, should you call the doctor’s office, should you go to an emergency room for evaluation, etc...? 

Additionally, you ought to discuss what to do if you realize you actually have exceeded the dosage amount by accident. And don’t forget to ask if your meds could react badly when combined with other substances, like particular food items or over-the-counter medications. (I've written a previous post about drug interactions and how to avoid them, as well as other aspects of Medication Safety. See the links at the end of this post)*

2.) Keep track of your medications daily - especially on bad days
Once a week, I put my meds into daily pillboxes so I can keep them with me each day and I know what I have to take and I can check if I’ve think I’ve missed one. There are all kinds of pillboxes and medication reminders available for purchase; some even have alarms which alert you to take your pills. Even if you are having a bad day, you’ll know where you started, what base meds you’ve already taken in the day. Here’s a form from the Mayo Clinic to use: Current Medications Log

3.)  Use a Patient Journal
As a patient with chronic pain/illness, you ought to be keeping a journal (either handwritten or typed on a computer or other electronic device). This journal is tool for you to keep a record of when symptoms are flaring, new symptoms are occurring, or to note any changes in your condition or the effect of meds or treatment upon you at the time they happen. This is valuable information to share with your doctors on a regular basis, but it can also assist you in following recurrences of symptom flare-ups and judging how the steps you took in reacting were or were not successful. Information recorded in the moment can lead to altering your meds/treatment to better prevent flare-ups and help track the overall course of your chronic condition.

From my own garden:  Dahlia "Moonshadow"

4.)  Explore new technologies for tracking your meds / symptoms
New technologies are so handy for keeping a daily record of your condition. Laptops, Blackberries, iPads, iPhones, etc. all offer convenience for constant tracking. When you have an extreme symptom day and are using a lot of medication, an electronic device could be the ultimate way to make a quick note, no matter where you are and without hardly any effort, of exactly when, what, and how much of your relief drug you have taken. It makes it equally easy - and almost instantaneous - to know with a few keystrokes exactly where you are with your total dosage for the day. 

I am not a techie person, but with a quick online search I found two options you could use for this step. MedTracker 1.0 is an app for the iPhone and My Medication Tracker is a free software tool. If you know of another app or program, please write in the comment area below and tell us about it!

5.)  Tell Someone when your symptoms become extreme
When I’m having a rough day and my chronic pain is climbing out of control, I always make sure that my husband knows. Sometimes we want to hide when we are struggling and cover up how desperate we feel. However, we have to be honest if things are getting out of control.

If you are having a truly extreme symptom flare, you really need to tell a friend or loved one. An impartial observer might notice if you are acting unusually or if exhibiting abnormal symptoms that you might be be aware of. You might not notice if your lips or fingertips are turning blue, if you begin to act irrationally, if you start to hyperventilate, if your overall color changes, if you seize, if you get spaced out, if you become unresponsive or any potential warning sign you might miss. Keeping secret your worsening condition could risk your life.

These five steps could prevent an accidental tragedy. Please read them and pass this post on to others with chronic conditions! 

...more suggestions:
Several months ago I wrote a 3-part series on Medication Safety which can also keep you and your family safe. You can read each section by clicking below:

*Medication Safety series:
part 3:  A Clean Sweep

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