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Taking your medicine at the right time of day can make a big difference in how well it works. The importance of timing is already well known for many common drugs. The specific time a drug is taken may improve it’s ability to control health problems and lessen side effects.
Just as important, when you don't take medicine for a chronic health condition the way you should, it can be unsafe. If you have high blood pressure, for instance, not taking your meds as prescribed puts you at risk for stroke, heart disease and kidney failure.
The information that comes with your prescription from the pharmacy has a lot of details to help you take your meds safely.
The following are some conditions treated with drugs that need to be taken at specific times.
Allergies: Most people take once-a-day antihistamines in the evening, around dinner, to combat allergies. That’s because antihistamines can make you drowsy. There are some allergy meds that need a morning and an evening dose. Others may be needed every four to six hours. Those are meds that don’t usually cause drowsiness.
Heartburn/acid reflux: Heartburn often hits after you eat. Acid reflux causes the most problems at night. Neither of those times are right for taking your medicine, though. That’s because the medicine works best before you eat. Doctors say to take your medicine in the morning before you eat your first meal of the day. You won’t see relief right away. It takes several days for the medicine to cut down on stomach acid production. For immediate, short-term relief, rely on antacids.
Depression: It is important to follow your doctor’s advice on when to take these meds. Some can cause insomnia if taken at night. Others can cause drowsiness and need to be taken at night. The instructions on the medicine package will say when to take them.
Asthma: Doctors often want asthma patients who take a steroid medicine once a day to take it between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Asthma can be worst from midnight to early morning. Taking the steroid in the late afternoon allows it to be more effective during that critical time. During flare-ups, you may need to take them more often. But don’t decide on your own to increase the doses you take. Let your doctor know if you’re having problems with your asthma, and let them make the call.
Blood pressure: Those who use medicines to control high blood pressure usually take them in the morning to help keep their levels steady during the day. Blood pressure often goes down at night as you sleep.
Cholesterol: Statins for managing cholesterol work best when taken before bedtime. The liver produces the most cholesterol after midnight.
Diuretics: Used to reduce salt and water in your body, diuretics work by flushing excess salt and water from your body. They can cause frequent trips to the toilet. Most people take them during the day, often in the morning. Later in the day can cause the need to go to the bathroom during the night. Activity during the day can also help with the flushing process.
Osteoarthritis: Many people have pain, swelling and soreness from osteoarthritis at different times of the day. Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work best when taken four to eight hours before the most intense pain. That ensures that the highest levels of the drug are in your blood stream when the pain hits. Most can be taken several times a day, but don’t take them more than recommended on the drug label. You may also need to take them with a meal to help with absorption and prevent an upset stomach.
Rheumatoid arthritis: The stiffness, swelling and pain of rheumatoid arthritis is usually worst in the morning. Taking over-the-counter pain meds during the late evening may be the most effective way to prevent pain from developing overnight. You may want to take these meds several times a day, as well.
Thyroid conditions: You should take your thyroid medicine in the morning before meals. If you take it with food or drinks, it can interact with the ingredients in some foods. In some cases, your body may not absorb the medicine correctly. Making these medicines part of your waking routine can give them time to work before you have your morning coffee and breakfast.
Reading the label on your medicines is the easiest way to prevent errors and overdoses.
If you have questions about taking your meds correctly, talk to your pharmacist. If you are having problems with a medicine, share your concerns with your doctor. Something as simple as a pill that is hard to swallow can make you not take your meds in a way that gives you the best results. There may be another drug that you can try.
Originally published 5/23/2019; Revised 2022
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