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Medications
Basic Information

Medications

As used in this website, the term 'medication' refers to a drug or other chemical compound that is administered into the body and which effects the body in a beneficial way, typically by relieving symptoms, or acting to remove or reduce causes of illness. There are lots of chemicals and drugs in existence, but not all of them are medications.

People have been using medications to help cure disorders and illnesses for thousands of years. Originally, medications were derived from natural (typically plant) sources. Modern medications (as used by physicians) are almost exclusively synthesized in laboratories, however. Herbal medicines do exist and are very popular, but are discussed separately under our Alternative Medicine topic center.

The manufacture and use of medications is governed by law in most countries (if not all). With some exceptions (e.g., over the counter varieties), medicines must be prescribed by a licens...

 
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What are medications?

  • As used in this website, the term 'medication' refers to a drug or other chemical compound that is administered into the body and which effects the body in a beneficial way, typically by relieving symptoms, or acting to remove or reduce causes of illness.
  • There are lots of chemicals and drugs in existence, but not all of them are medications.
  • People have been using medications to help cure disorders and illnesses for thousands of years.
  • Originally, medications were derived from natural (typically plant) sources. Modern medications (as used by physicians) are almost exclusively synthesized in laboratories, however.
  • The manufacture and use of medications is governed by law in most countries (if not all).
  • With some exceptions (e.g., over the counter varieties), medicines must be prescribed by a licensed physician, and purchased from a licensed pharmacy before people can have access to them.
  • Physicians (and members of several other health professions such as nurse-practitioners, physician's assistants, dentists, etc.) are trained in the use (and cross-use) of a variety of medicines. It is this training that allows these professionals to safely prescribe medicines to treat illness.
  • Medicines are typically categorized into classes of related compounds and chemicals that produce particular effects on the body.
  • Different class categorizations are in use, with some schemes categorizing medicines on the basis of how they affect the body and brain at a chemical and molecular level, and other schemes grouping them by the types of effects they have on the body and brain.
  • You can use online databases to look up medicines you have questions about.

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What should I know about medications for mental disorders?

  • It is important for you to be well informed about medications you may need. You should know what medications you take and the dosage, and learn everything you can about them.
  • Medications for mental illnesses were first introduced in the early 1950s and have changed the lives of people with these disorders for the better.
  • Psychotherapeutic medications also may make other kinds of treatment more effective.
  • Medications do not cure mental illness, but in many cases, they can help a person function despite some continuing mental pain and difficulty coping with problems.
  • How long someone must take a psychotherapeutic medication depends on the individual and the disorder.
  • Like any medication, psychotherapeutic medications do not produce the same effect in everyone. Some people may respond better to one medication than another. Some may need larger dosages than others do. Some have side effects, and others do not.
  • You and your family can help your doctor find the right medications for you. The doctor needs to know your medical history, other medications being taken, and life plans such as hoping to have a baby.
  • Medications for mental disorders are divided into four large categories - antipsychotic, antimanic, antidepressant, and antianxiety medications.
  • Children, the elderly, and pregnant and nursing women have special concerns and needs when taking psychotherapeutic medications. Some effects of medications on the growing body, the aging body, and the childbearing body are known, but much remains to be learned.

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What should I know about medicines and older adults?

  • People age 65 and older consume more prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines than any other age group. Older people tend to have more long-term, chronic illnesses than do younger people.
  • Because they may have a number of diseases or disabilities at the same time, it is common for older people to take many different drugs.
  • Medicines may act differently in older people than in younger people. This may be because of normal changes in the body that happen with age.
  • Keep in mind that "drugs" can mean both medicines prescribed by your doctor and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, which you buy without a doctor’s prescription. OTC’s can include vitamins and minerals, herbal and dietary supplements, laxatives, cold medicines, and antacids.
  • Be sure your doctor knows what medicines you are taking and assures you that it is safe for you to take your medicines together.
  • Also ask about taking your medicines with food.
  • Herbal supplements also should be taken with care.
  • You and your family should learn about the medicines that you take and their possible side effects.
  • Review your medicine record with the doctor or nurse at every visit and whenever your doctor prescribes new medicine. Your doctor may have new information about your medicines that might be important to you.
  • Keep a daily checklist of all the medicines you take. Include both prescription and OTC medicines. Note the name of each medicine, the doctor who prescribed it, the amount you take, and the times of day you take it. Keep a copy in your medicine cabinet and one in your wallet or pocketbook.
  • Make sure you can read and understand the medicine name and the directions on the container. If the label is hard to read, ask your pharmacist to use larger type. Let your pharmacist know if you have trouble opening the medicine bottle.

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