When you pick up a prescription from the pharmacy, you may only glance at the prescription bottle label, especially if it's a medication that you get refilled regularly. However, fully understanding how to read a prescription bottle label can help you make sure you're taking the medication properly — and, conversely, forgetting to read the label first could lead to dangerous results.
For example, it's possible to face adverse effects if your prescription is the wrong medication or dosage. It's important to follow instructions on how to take all of your medication properly so you don't end up sick. Between 7,000 and 9,000 people die in the U.S. each year due to a medication error, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Hundreds of thousands more may experience an adverse reaction to the medication but not report it.
Fortunately, you don't have to be a medical professional to learn how to read a prescription bottle label. Once you know what information to look for, you can ensure you're taking medication correctly as prescribed by your doctor.
Here's a breakdown of what you'll find on your prescription label.
1. Pharmacy Contact Information
The prescription label includes the name, address and phone number of the pharmacy that filled the prescription. If you have questions about the medication or concerns that the prescription was filled incorrectly, call the pharmacist before taking the medication.
2. Prescription Number
Every prescription has a prescription number on the label of the bottle or box. This number identifies your prescription so that the pharmacy can reference it for refills or to address questions.
3. Patient Name
The prescription label will display the patient's name and address for identification. Always check the name on the label to make sure you haven't mistakenly received a medication prescribed for someone else.
4. Prescribing Doctor's Name
You'll also find the name of the physician who prescribed the medication on the prescription label. This allows the pharmacy to call the doctor for refill authorization or with any questions about the prescription.
5. Medication Name and Strength
Medication errors may include the right medication in the wrong dose, resulting in an overdose, underdose or an extra dose. Alternatively, the medication itself may be different than the one your doctor prescribed. For example, the pharmacist could mistakenly give you "immediate-release" rather than "extended-release" tablets.
To guard against medication errors, make note of the prescribed medication, dose and dosage instructions while at your doctor's office. Then, check the prescription label to make sure the medication and other information is correct.
6. Instructions for Taking the Medication
To make sure you administer the medication safely, read the dosage instructions on the prescription label, such as "take one tablet by mouth every day" or "take with food." You will also find important warnings such as "may make you drowsy or dizzy" or "avoid alcohol with this medication."
7. Date Filled
This is the date your prescription was filled, and it can alert you to when it's time to order a refill.
8. Number of Refills Allowed
The prescription label also shows the number of refills allowed or remaining. This information is crucial for proper prescription medication management, which ensures you don't run out of a drug while waiting for your doctor to authorize more refills.
9. Expiration Date
As with the food in your kitchen, medications have expiration dates. Disregarding these dates can be dangerous. "Once the expiration date has passed, there is no guarantee that the medicine will be safe and effective. If your medicine has expired, do not use it," the U.S. Food & Drug Administration recommends.
Alongside health habits like staying fit, good prescription medication management is part of a healthy retirement. Always read the prescription label first to ensure you're getting exactly what the doctor ordered.