Medicines: 10 essential questions to ask

Looking at the statin story

Q1: What is my medicine for?

It is very important that you are familiar with your medicine(s) and understand why you are taking them. Medicines can bring benefits, but also carry some risks. People respond to them differently, so it may take time for your doctor to find the best medicine and dose for you. Your doctor and pharmacist can help you understand your medicines, explain why you are taking them, and address your concerns.

The statin story… Statins are a group of medicines effective in reducing the level of cholesterol in the blood. You may be taking a statin because you have had a heart attack or stroke in the past, or, if you are at risk, to prevent cardiovascular disease in the future. Taking a statin, along with a healthy lifestyle, can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Q2: Why is it important to know the active ingredient in a medicine?

Understanding the naming of your medicines can be confusing as each one may have a number of names. One of the names refers to the active ingredient, which is the name of the substance in the medicine that makes it work. Knowing the active ingredient in your medicines will help you to recognise when two different brands are the same medicine.

Medicines may also have another name which is the brand name given to the medicine by the manufacturer. Many medicines are available under several different brands: an original brand and sometimes several other brands (also known as generic). The active ingredient in the generic medicine is the same as in the brand medicine. Packaging may vary, but you will find both the active ingredient and brand name listed on the package.

Some people may worry about using a generic medicine; however they have the same active ingredient, meet the same Australian standards, and are used for the same purpose.

They also have the same potential side effects. Talk to your doctor and pharmacist about what is best for you.

Further information about generic medicines is available at www.nps.org.au/topics/how-to-be-medicinewise/buying-medicines/generic-medicine-brands

The statin story… the active ingredient in a statin medicine will have ‘statin’ in the name.

Examples of Statin medicines

Active ingredient

Examples of Brand names

Atorvastatin

Atorvachol, Atorvastatin, Lipitor, Lorstat, Torvastat, Trovas

Fluvastatin

Lescol, Vastin

Pravastatin

Cholstat, Cholvastin, Lipostat, Pravachol, Pravastat, Pravastatin

Rosuvastatin

Crestor

Simvastatin

Lipex, Ransim, Simvacor, Simvastatin, Simvar, Zimstat, Zocor

Q3: What side effects might occur?

All medicines have some risks attached. You are more likely to experience side effects when you start a new medicine, increase the dose of your medicine or when you add another medicine. Although side effects are often mild and/or temporary, talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you become aware of any new unexplained symptoms. Adverse effects may be more common in certain groups, including seniors, those taking multiple medicines and people with complex medical conditions.

Your pharmacist can give you an information leaflet called Consumer Medicine Information (CMI) which includes detailed information about medicines, including side effects.

The statin story… If your doctor has recently started or changed your statin medicine, or made changes to other medicines, it is important to let him/her know if you experience any unexplained new symptoms, in particular, muscle aches and pains, weakness or tenderness. Whilst some people may worry about their memory, there is no good evidence that statins affect memory. Information about your statin medicine and associated side effects, included in the CMI, is also available at www.nps.org.au/medicines

Always talk to your doctor before stopping, starting or changing any of your medicines.

Q4: What if I am taking a number of medicines?

Tell your doctor and pharmacist about ALL the medicines you are taking

Medicines can cause unwanted side effects when used alone or together. You may take more than one medicine for a number of reasons. Sometimes a medicine doesn’t combine well with others you may be taking, even non-prescription medicines. If you have any concerns talk to your doctor.

The statin story… Statins can interact with other medicines and cause unwanted side effects. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about ALL the medicines you are taking.

Q5: What if I am taking complementary and alternative medicines?

Complementary and alternative medicines

Many people may not realise that herbal medicines, vitamins and minerals, and nutritional supplements (also known as complementary and alternative medicines) may interact with those prescribed by your doctor. You may have purchased these products over the counter without a prescription, bought them from a supermarket, health food shop, or over the internet. Some foods may also affect the medicines you are taking.

The statin story… Be sure to tell your doctor about any complementary or alternative medicines you are taking, as some of these have the potential to cause problems when taken with a statin. People taking statins should avoid grapefruit or grapefruit juice.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Q6: Why should I keep a list of my current medicines?

It is important to have an updated list of all the medicines you are taking and to know why you are taking them. A Medicines List can also help if you are going into hospital or leaving home for a time. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you prepare your list and print it out for you. This may include the name of each medicine as well as the active ingredient, dose, directions and possible side effects to look out for. Some useful tools are available from NPS MedicineWise.

The statin story… People taking statins often take a number of different medicines. Statins come in a variety of strengths, brand names and packaging. Keeping a medicines list can help you know your statin and get the best from it.

NPS MedicineWise provides a Medicines List which can be printed out.This is available at www.nps.org.au/topics/how-to-be-medicinewise/managing-your-medicines/medicines-list

A smart phone Medicine List app can also be downloaded from NPS MedicineWise. http://www.nps.org.au/topics/how-to-be-medicinewise/managing-your-medicines/medicines-list/medicinelist-smartphone-app

Get to know your medicines to get the best results from them.

Q7: How can I remember to take my medicines?

Take your medicines as part of your regular daily routine. Follow the instructions exactly as directed to achieve the best outcomes and to avoid unwanted side effects. It is important to keep the medicines in the original container provided by the pharmacist.

You need to remember:

  • which medicine(s) to take
  • how often to take them
  • when to take them (is my medicine best taken morning or night, before or after meals?)
  • what to do if you miss a dose.

A medicine organiser, also called a dose administration aid (DAA), can help keep track of your medicines. A pharmacist can sort your medicines into compartments for each day of the week and the time of day you should take them. It can prompt you when to take your medicines, and remind you that you have taken them. DVA provides this service free to eligible veterans. Talk to your doctor if you are having trouble remembering your medicines.

Talk to your doctor if you are having trouble remembering your medicines.

Q8: For how long should I take my medicine?

Sometimes a medicine is needed for only a short time until a condition is cured, for example when we take an antibiotic for an infection. If you have an ongoing medical condition it is likely you will need to take a medicine long term.

Always talk to your doctor before stopping, starting or changing your medicines.

The statin story… Statins usually need to be taken long term. However sometimes it may be necessary to adjust the dose or cease the medicine at your doctor’s recommendation.

Remember… Do not stop taking your statin medicine without talking to your doctor.

Don’t share any medicines. Old or out of date medicines can be returned to your pharmacy.

Always talk to your doctor before stopping, starting or changing your medicines.

Q9: Should my medicines be reviewed?

Having a Home Medicines Review (HMR) can help you better understand your medicines and is a good idea if you are taking a number of different medicines. Your doctor can refer you for an HMR where your pharmacist will visit you to review your medicines. You may like to have a family member or friend with you. Alternatively you may wish to ask your pharmacist for a MedsCheck in the pharmacy to discuss how your prescription, over-the-counter or alternative medicines may be affecting each other.

The statin story… Since you may be taking a statin medicine over a period of time, a medicines review can be useful to remind you about:

  • Why you are taking a statin
  • The benefits of taking a statin
  • Possible risks, side effects and interactions with other medicines
  • What to do if you have unwanted symptoms or concerns
  • Maintaining an up to date list of your medicines
  • Making an appointment to monitor your medicines.

Q10: How can I make a difference?

Lifestyle is very important! Making some lifestyle changes can make a difference and can reduce the risk of a heart attack, stroke, diabetes and other chronic disease. Some conditions can be better managed with changes to your diet and regular exercise.

The statin story… Remember: A statin is just one factor in reducing your cholesterol level and the risk of heart disease and stroke. Evidence shows lifestyle changes can also significantly reduce this risk.

Make it a priority to:

  • Quit smoking
  • Be active every day
  • Sit less…move more
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Enjoy a healthy diet
  • Drink no more than 2 standard alcoholic drinks per day, with some alcohol free days.
Further information:

The Heart Foundation website has ideas for active living and healthy eating: www.heartfoundation.org.au

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