Never Take Your Medication Without Doing This, Doctors Say

From prescription medications to over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, most of us have swallowed our share of pills over the years. But even if you've taken a medication so many times that you no longer think twice about it, don't be lulled into complacency. Doctors are now stressing the importance of one piece of guidance that they say many people aren't following. Read on to find out what doctors say you should always do before taking any type of medication.

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Many people do not closely follow instructions when taking medications.

If you've ever taken medicine without reading the instructions first, you're hardly alone. A 2015 survey from McNeil Consumer Healthcare found that only 20 percent of U.S. adults say they re-read the label of an OTC drug they've used in the past before taking it again—and one in three respondents think it's fine to simply skim the directions on OTC drugs.

Similar issues occur with prescriptions as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people do not take medication as prescribed about 50 percent of the time. And 20 to 30 percent of new prescriptions never even get filled.

"Whether it is the first time or the twentieth time, it is always important to read and follow the label for all medicines, prescription and OTC," Rajesh Mishra, vice president of Medical and Clinical Affairs at McNeil Consumer Healthcare, said in a statement, adding that these labels "contain information consumers need to use a medicine safely and responsibly."

Now, doctors are warning patients about one important instruction that should never be ignored.

Never take medicine without doing this first, doctors say.

If you don't have water on hand when you're taking your medicine, you're most likely not following directions. According to David Seitz, MD, the acting medical director for Ascendant Detox, "it is important to always take your medication with water," unless your actual doctor or pharmacist tells you otherwise for a specific reason. This is the case for most medicines, whether or not they are meant be taken with food or on an empty stomach.

"Water is essential for the proper absorption of many medications," Seitz explains. "Drinking water dilutes the medication and allows it to be dispersed evenly throughout the body. This helps to ensure that the medication is properly absorbed and that it works the way it is supposed to. It also helps to flush any unused medication out of your system, so it doesn't build up in your body and cause unwanted side effects."

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Dry swallowing can put you in danger.

It's not just that drinking water is important for the effectiveness of drugs. One of the biggest reasons doctors say it's important is to prevent potential dangers associated with dry swallowing. Seitz says this can cause "choking, gagging, and vomiting," especially if you're not used to doing it.

If you're in the habit of swallowing pills without water to wash them down, you could still be putting yourself at risk of pill esophagitis. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, a medical toxicology physician and medical director at National Capital Poison Center, says this occurs when pills get stuck in the esophagus, which is often caused by dry swallowing. "When pills become lodged in the esophagus, the pressure from the pills can cause damage to the surrounding tissue. In addition, when pills dissolve, their contents can damage the delicate esophageal tissue," she explains.

This might be more of a risk than you realize. According to MedCline, there have been reports detailing cases of pill-induced esophagitis caused by more than 30 different types of medication. But Johnson-Arbor says that nearly half of all cases occurs after the use of commonly used drugs such as antibiotics and antiviral medications.

"One of the reasons for this is that certain antibiotics, such as tetracyclines, produce acidic solutions when they come into contact with wet surfaces (like the esophagus)," she says. "Gelatin capsules, which have a sticky outer texture, are also more likely to get stuck in the food pipe than non-gelatin pills, and larger pills are more likely to get stuck than smaller pills. And sustained-release formulations, which dissolve over time, may also be more damaging to the esophagus than immediate-release products."

Drinking water with medications can prevent pill esophagitis.

Water helps prevent any of these potential concerns—so don't skip it the next time you're in a hurry.

"Taking medications with water helps pills (including tablets and capsules) pass easily through the food pipe (esophagus) and into the stomach," Johnson-Arbor explains. According to the toxicologist, while the esophagus stretches to accommodate the passage of food and medications, these things can sometimes get stuck. But fluids like water make this less likely as they help "flush medications rapidly through the esophagus and into the stomach."

The amount of water you're drinking matters too. "People should drink at least four to six ounces of water when taking pills, and larger amounts of water should be consumed when taking large pills, sustained-release pills, antibiotics, and other medications that are known to be associated with pill esophagitis," Johnson-Arbor tells Best Life. You should also always take your pills sitting upright and avoid lying down for at least 10 to 15 minutes afterwards to avoid pill esophagitis, she adds.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.