Thursday, January 24, 2008


A CNN report dated last November cited 530,000 people on Medicare making medication errors. That number is staggering when you think about all the incidents that go unreported annually.

As an intensive care nurse, I see patients who come in as a result of ingesting their precribed medications. Either they've taken too much, mixed one drug with another by accident thereby increasing the effects of the med, or the condition they take the medication for in the first place worsens because the medication is not working. The effects may be hindered by their diet.

Here are some simple things you can do to increase your medication administration safety:

1) Keep a list of your medications with you at all times in your wallet. Write down the name of the prescription, the dose, and how often you are supposed to take it.

Whenever you find yourself in your doctor's office, pull the list out and compare what the doctor has listed in your chart with what you currently take. A lot of people see multiple doctors at once, ie a cardiologist for a heart condition; a pulmonologist for a lung ailment; an internal medicine specialist for conditions such as diabetes--All of these doctors prescribe different medications. Some may interact with each other and it is important for your medical professionals to know who is prescribing what for you when they consider new or existing medications for your safety.

2)Take your prescriptions as the directions tell you on the bottle.

I know this sounds easy, but it really isn't. Sometimes a patient has reported he/she took an extra pill because they couldn't remember if they'd taken the med that day or not. Or, worse, they missed the morning dose, so they thought they'd take two in the evening to "catch up". Depending on the medicine, this opens a person up to a trip to the emergency room. If the pill was a sedative or pain med, you increase the effects of the medication by taking double the dose. These meds supress your ability to breathe. Your respirations may be shallow and instead of 12 to 16 breaths per minute which is the norm, you may only breathe four breaths per minute, increasing the carbon dioxide in your body to dangerous levels. Because you've overly sedated yourself which is potentiated by the high CO2 levels, the staff in the ER can't wake you up and a lot of times, we place these patients on respirators until the drugs wear off. Trust me, the sore throat you'll have from the breathing tube is the least of what can happen here. If your brain is deprived of oxygen for too long, you have a whole other set of problems. Anoxic brain injury comes to mind, but that is another post all together.

Another scenario is with cardiac medications used to control heart rate/rhythm and blood pressure. Some people take an extra dose and will drop their blood pressure too low, or their heart will beat too slow. Effects of this are diaphoresis ( a fancy word for sweating), dizziness, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Sometimes, your heart rhythm gets impeded and a patient can go into complete heart block, requiring an external or temporary pace maker to kick the heart rate up. Especially if they are symptomatic as noted above. Let me tell you folks, the little electric shocks delivered to your heart are not fun. A lot people report pain with this.

So, if the prescription medication says "Take one pill daily" take only one pill. And if you forget, call your doctor's office and talk to the nurse. She'll check with your doctor and make suggestions that are safe for you.

3)Not taking your prescribed medication.

This is a huge one. People who don't take their meds can get into serious trouble. I'll use hyertension (or high blood pressure) as an example. Medicine is prescribed by your physician to keep a person's blood pressure in a certain range. Usually, the top number needs to be less than 160 and the bottom number needs to be less than 90. So, if your blood pressure is greater or around 160/90, you may need more than just diet and exercise to control this. Some people are just predisposed to having high blood pressure because of their family history. Gotta love those genes mom and dad passed down!

Why is it important to control your blood pressure? Because the high numbers put you at risk for a stroke, kidney failure, and the constant pressure against your arteries weaken the vessels and may cause an aneurysm.

In conclusion, if you take prescribed medication, be smart and educate yourself. Take your medicine as directed. If you don't understand why you need the medication, ask your medical professional. Also, if the medicine prescribed by your doctor makes you feel worse than before you took the pills in the first place, tell your doctor. He/she may need to change the prescriptions several times until he finds one that will work for your condition and your body.

Most important--WHEN IN DOUBT, ASK!! No question is a dumb question when it comes to your life. There are lots of resources besides your doctor's office. Alot of hospitals have "Ask A Nurse" Hotlines. Many pharmacies are open 24 hours a day and always have a pharmacist on staff.

Stay safe,

Writing medical romances where humor and sex are the perfect prescription for love!
Future Release From The Wild Rose Press: The Doctor's Deception
Coming Soon: KathleenGrieve.Com

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