Managing Medicine and the Holidays

Published on 18 December 2014

The holidays bring plenty to look forward to, including time off work and school. These changes in  daily routine may mean that medications may take a back seat. To make sure you stay on track and stay healthy, Amy Tiemeier, Pharm.D., BCPS, associate professor at St. Louis College of Pharmacy, has some advice.

“This is really the time to make sure you’re taking your medication as prescribed,” Tiemeier says. “Focus on taking medication as it is prescribed in the weeks leading up to time off, travel, or holiday gatherings. Establishing those good patterns now will help you keep them going through this hectic time of year.”

Forgetting Medication

Medication for chronic conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes is often built into the daily habits of patients.  A change in those habits could lead to problems remembering to take your medication. With so much happening at this time of year, it’s easy to forget to take a dose of medication.

“If you forget to take your medication at a particular time, call your pharmacist,” Tiemeier advises. “You may need to take the medication right away, or you might be OK waiting until the next scheduled dose. Your pharmacist can help you figure out what’s best for your situation.”

In the rush to pack everything for a trip to grandma’s house, or that dream holiday getaway, it’s also very easy for patients to leave needed medication behind. In many cases patients can obtain an emergency supply.

“Call your pharmacist as soon as you realize you don’t have your medication,” Tiemeier says. “The pharmacist will be able to advise you on the steps to take to make sure you get your medication as quickly as possible.”

Travelling with Medication

When packing for a trip, keep medications with you in your car or in your carry-on luggage. Typically, medicine should be stored between 68 and 77 Fahrenheit unless it needs refrigeration. Excessive cold in the cargo hold of an airplane or heat from the sun can make it less effective.

“Having your medication in freezing conditions for a few minutes should not change its effectiveness,” Tiemeier says. “If your medication was exposed to extreme temperatures or humidity, check to see if it smells different than normal or if the capsules or tablets are look different than they usually do. When in doubt, have a pharmacist inspect it.”

If travelling through airport with liquid medication, check the TSA guidelines to make sure you can get through security quickly and easily.

Avoiding Complications

Many overindulge in the last six weeks of the year. For some it’s too many home-baked cookies, for others it’s alcohol at a holiday dinner. Straying from a prescribed diet can be dangerous for patients with a number of diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure.

For patients who don’t normally drink, having some alcohol at a gathering can affect how medication works in the body. When a patient drinks, the alcohol can change how the medication works in the body or can increase the side effects of medications.

It is also good to remember check the labels of OTC medications of any meds you might be taking for a cold or the flu.

“Patients taking over-the-counter medications to help their cough or runny nose may feel especially sleepy after a couple of drinks at a holiday party or family gathering,” Tiemeier says. “Patients could also become dizzy. The older a patient is, the more likely he or she will feel these effects.”

Take Action

Tiemeier says patients taking an active role in managing their health usually feel better and have a better understanding of their conditions. She advocates for patients to know and write down important health information like blood glucose levels, blood pressure, weight, and all prescription and over-the-counter medications.

“It can be difficult for patients to control their blood pressure or blood sugar on the average day,” Tiemeier says. “Add in holidays and all the stress and changes in routine that occur, and there’s an increased chance of medication problems which could lead to a serious health issue. However, with a little planning and assistance from your pharmacist if problems do occur, you can enjoy the holidays and stay healthy.”

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