Take Your Medicine: What You Need to Know

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Doctors have long been warning people not to self-medicate and take prescribed medicines as scheduled and in the right doses. Many have violated these warnings at one time or another or did not take them seriously enough. Knowing how medicines act in the body will help you understand why you must heed these warnings.

Absorption of Medicines

The absorption of medicine refers to its journey to reach the bloodstream. This determines its bioavailability, or how much and how soon the active ingredient reaches its target in the body. The active ingredient is the crucial element needed for treatment.

In any form, the active ingredient of medicine comes with other ingredients to either make it more palatable, protect it from the environment, or hasten or delay its exposure to other substances in the body. Pharmaceutical companies test the absorption of the active ingredient and its additives through an in vitro permeability test. This determines the final makeup of a medicine. This is important because if the active ingredient is not released at the right time in the right place, its effectiveness diminishes.

Different brands of medicine with the same active ingredient may have different inactive ingredients, affecting absorption and bioavailability. This is why you must always ask your doctor if a certain prescribed medicine can be interchangeable with others that have the same active ingredient. There may be only certain other brands that are bioequivalent or reach the target area within the same period at the same amounts.

Medicines come in various forms, such as tablets and capsules. Some have formulations that release a small amount of the active ingredient in a sustained period, such as within 12 hours. These are often labeled as controlled-release tablets or capsules. On the other hand, there are often quick-release versions of certain medications, especially pain relievers.

Administration of Medicines

There are various ways that medicines are administered. Most are taken orally and swallowed as liquids, capsules, or tablets, or chewed. These travel through the digestive system to the small intestine, where they are absorbed and taken by the blood to the liver. The process takes away from the active ingredients, so oral medications contain more active ingredients than intravenous medications that go directly to the bloodstream.

It is also important to heed instructions to take medicine on an empty stomach or a full stomach because these affect the medication’s effectiveness and protect against unwanted side effects. For instance, some medicines need an empty stomach to avoid dilution by food, while others irritate an empty stomach.

Other ways of administering medications are by injection, rectal or vaginal insertion, inhalation through the nose and mouth, skin patches, topical formulations, eye drops, and ear drops. Pharmaceutical companies determine the best way to administer the medicine for maximum effectiveness. Some are available in more than one form for administration in various ways.

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Metabolism and Elimination of Medicines

The body metabolizes or chemically alters medicines in the liver. Specific enzymes in the liver alter active ingredients into inactive ingredients after the bloodstream has taken what the body needs. The inactive ingredients are then ready for elimination.

In some medicines, though, the reverse happens intentionally. The medicine arrives in the liver inactivated, and the enzymes activate it. After the medicine does its work, it is metabolized again for elimination.

When the blood has a high level of medicines, the liver’s enzymes become overloaded. This is why a high continuous load of medication over a long period can damage the liver. Also, if the enzymes cannot completely metabolize a medicine, its effects on the body increase. This can lead to unintended overdose.

The elimination of metabolized medicines occurs through the liver or the kidneys. In the liver, these are eliminated in the bile, which then goes to the digestive tract and exits the body as feces. The digestive system reabsorbs some of it, though. In the kidney, the medicine is eliminated in the urine. For people with low kidney function, doctors lower the dosage of medicines to avoid side effects.

Medicines are also eliminated through sweat, saliva, and breast milk. This is why breastfeeding mothers must consult their doctor before taking any medicine.

Take Your Medicines Correctly

Pharmaceutical companies spend millions in research, production, and testing to make sure that the formulations of medicines are just right and in the proper form to release their active ingredients in the right dosage at the right times. Doctors have spent more years than other professionals studying to determine the right medication, dosage, and schedule customized for each individual. Hence, every prescription you receive has massive data behind it, and you must not take that for granted. You must not also risk prescribing medicines for yourself. If you do these things, you are only sabotaging your own health.

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