If you take medication for Bipolar Disorder or any other medical problem, it is important to understand that medication, how to properly take the medication and any possible side effects. Sometimes asking your doctor gives you all the information that you desire, but if you want a more in-depth view into the medication, there are several ways to gain that insight quickly and easily and at not cost whatsoever except a few minutes of your time.

Now, of course, you do not want to make any diagnosis of yourself or adjust any medication without your doctor's supervision. You want to discuss questions and concerns about medications with your doctor fully. However, there is nothing wrong with wanting to know more about a medicine.

Turn to the Physicians' Desk Reference (PDR): This is a very large, thick book that doctors use as a reference tool. It has all the prescription drugs listed and cross-referenced and is published each year. Doctors use it to study drug interactions, possible side effects and determine the safety of medication during pregnancy and for treatment of multiple medical disorders.

You can find a current PDR in the reference section of our local library. It can be used for looking up a medication but can not be checked out and taken home since it is a reference book. If you want to own a PDR, you can purchase one online or at a large bookstore.

To properly read a PDR, you have to understand a little medical jargon. For example, contraindications means simply 'situations where you should necessarily use this medication'. The PDR is otherwise pretty straight forward. Pictures of many of the medications are shown. Dosage information is also included as is information about possible addiction, withdrawals and suicide risks.

Visit the Pharmaceutical Company Website: Each pharmaceutical company maintains a website with lots of great information about each of the medications they manufacture. By visiting their website, you will find almost, if not all, of the information that is in the PDR. Frequently, these websites use much more 'plain language' for the information than does the PDR.

Call the Pharmaceutical Company Toll-Free: If you want to talk to a person about the medication rather than try to understand the written material, request a toll-free telephone number from your pharmacist, doctor, the company's website, or call toll-free directory assistance at 1-800-555-1212 (this service does charge to look up numbers for you). A customer service representative will answer any questions you have about a specific medication. They may offer to send you a fact sheet about the medication through the U.S. mail.

Talk to Your Pharmacist: Visit your drug store and ask to consult with the pharmacist. He or she is very knowledgeable about medications; after all, it is their livelihood. Most likely, any questions you have can be answered fully and completely. The pharmacist may print out a patient information sheet for you if you want something to refer to later. If you are concerned about a drug interaction, the pharmacist is probably the very best place to begin your research. Also, if you are experiencing something that fear may be a side-effect of the medication, talking to your pharmacist will reveal if he or she has frequently heard of that side-effect from other patients taking that specific medication.

Patient Information Sheet: If you have gotten a prescription medication filled at your pharmacy, you will be provided a printed sheet called the 'patient information sheet'. This is a plain English page of information about the medication, what it is prescribed for, how it should be taken, what should be avoided while taking the medication and other warnings such as known drug interactions. Any good pharmacist will be happy to print this sheet out before you get your prescription filled or afterwards if you misplace it and want to know more.

Call Your Doctor: If you believe you are having side-effects or have any reason to be concerned about a medication you are taking, call your doctor and talk with him or her about your questions and concerns. Because your doctor prescribes medication regularly, he or she will know a great deal about what side-effects have been reported, what medications don't work well if taken on an empty stomach or if they should be taken on a empty stomach and other factors that can impact the effectiveness of a medication.

These are simple, easy and free ways to learn about the medication you may be taking on a daily basis. Remember, however, that you are a not a doctor and you should never try to self-prescribe. Medication must be taken exactly as prescribed by your doctor, carefully following each and every instruction that has been provided to you by the doctor. Sometimes the time of day that a medication is to be taken can be important. What foods can or can't be eaten when taking a medication can be important.

If learning about a medication results in concerns or questions, contact your doctor to discuss those issues. Do NOT stop taking a medication suddenly without your doctor's advice. Do NOT change dosage without your doctor's advice. It can be very dangerous. Remember, your doctor is the health care professional and should always be aware of your concerns.