One of the biggest factors in the stability of most people who have bipolar disorder is their medication. Changes, even small ones, in a person's medication can upset that stability dramatically. That's why you need to be particularly vigilant about possible medication mistakes whether you have bipolar or are supporting someone who does.

Normally, medicine is dispensed in the following process. First, you or your loved one goes to the doctor who decides on a type of medication. The doctor writes out the prescription which is taken to or called into the pharmacy. The pharmacist takes that information he or she hears/sees and 'makes' the medicine so you or your loved one can pick it up. The instructions for the medication are written on the bottle.

Usually, everything goes right. However, things don't always go right. Let me show you some of the potential problems that can interfere with the process:

  • The doctor may write down the wrong medication
  • The pharmacist may read or hear the prescription wrong
  • The pharmacist makes a mistake and 'makes' the wrong prescription
  • The worker at the pharmacy gives you or your loved one a prescription for someone else
  • The wrong instructions are placed on the medicine bottle

Thankfully, you can prevent these potential problems from interfering with your loved one's stability. Let's look at some prevention strategies for each of the above possibilities:

The doctor may write down the wrong medication Pay attention to what your doctor tells you. Make sure you check to make sure the medication he or she tells you about is the same medication that is written on your prescription. If you even suspect there's a discrepancy, ask the doctor.

The pharmacist may read or hear the prescription wrong First, you should ask the doctor to rewrite any prescription that is hard to read. The doctor may think you're being a pain but when it comes to your health or the health of your loved one you have every right to be a pain. Second, double-check the prescription details when you pick it up at the pharmacy. If you think a mistake may have been made ask the pharmacy or call your doctor BEFORE taking any of the medication.

The pharmacist makes a mistake and 'makes' the wrong prescription You won't be able to tell by looking at the medication if it's wrong unless you or your loved one have already been using the medication. When you start any new medication, watch for side effects and other symptoms so that you can tell your doctor about them on the next visit. Some side effects may be normal, but they may also be a result of taking the wrong medication. You can also reduce the chances that this type of problem will occur by going to a reputable pharmacy that employs experienced pharmacists.

The worker at the pharmacy gives you or your loved one a prescription for someone else This happened to a colleague of my mother and if she hadn't checked the label of the bottle before taking one of the pills she might have been in for some serious consequences. You should never leave the pharmacy without double-checking both the tag on the prescription's sack and the bottle. Again, you can reduce the likelihood that this will occur by going to a pharmacy that you trust and that you know hires reliable, conscientious employees.

The wrong instructions are placed on the medicine bottle Generally, your prescription should come with two sets of instructions. One set is placed on the bottle. The other is printed out and stapled to the prescription's sack. Make sure you compare both sets of instructions. If there are discrepancies, call your doctor or ask the pharmacist to double-check the prescription order.

In addition to these suggestions, the following tips can also help you or your loved one avoid possible problems with medications:

  • Stay with one pharmacist or pharmacy Many people today switch their prescriptions around in order to take advantage of special deals. That's simply a bad idea. If you needed brain surgery, you wouldn't look around for a way to save money on the operation, would you? Plus, each time you switch you are increasing the chances that mistakes will be made since the new pharmacist won't know you or your history as well.
  • Give your pharmacist a complete list of your medications Some people believe that pharmacists are psychic and can know simply by looking at them what drugs they take regularly, but that's not the case. You need to keep your pharmacist informed about any prescription or over-the-counter medications you are taking. They also need to know about vitamins and herbal supplements that you may take regularly. Without this knowledge, the pharmacist won't be able to warn you about potential, and dangerous, drug interactions.
  • Keep all of your prescriptions at one pharmacy Some people have two prescriptions at one location, another prescription at their grocery store's pharmacy, and a couple of others elsewhere. This is a recipe for disaster. Pharmacists need to know all of the medication you are currently taking in order to check for drug interactions. If they only know some of those medications, they can't do their job effectively and you're taking a risk with your health and your life.
  • Ask questions You should always be friendly with your pharmacist, so choose one you feel comfortable with that way you won't have a problem asking them questions. When you ask questions and show that you have real concerns, your pharmacist will be more likely to look out for you.
  • Take your time We're all busy in today's society, but that doesn't mean you should feel rushed about asking questions or checking your medication at the pharmacy or the doctor's office. It's your body and you have the right to take all the time that you need to feel comfortable with that medication before you start taking it.
  • When you follow the guidelines, strategies, and tips above, you or your loved one will be less likely to encounter problems with your prescriptions.