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WHAT YOU EAT and drink can change the way medications work. Sometimes the combination of certain foods and medications can be beneficial. In other cases, it can be dangerous.

Your doctor or pharmacist should cover any specific instructions that pertain to prescriptions you take. But unusual situations can come up at home.

These guidelines will help you decide what to do:

Follow the instructions given on the medication label. Some drugs are labeled "take with food." This advice generally applies when the medication is known to cause stomach irritation.

If the label directs you to take the medication with food and you decide to skip a meal, do not skip the medication also. Take the medication with a small snack and a full glass of water.

If the label directs you to "take on an empty stomach," take it at least one hour before or two to three hours after a meal. Many medications are absorbed more completely and faster in an empty stomach. This is especially beneficial when the medication is intended to work quickly, such as for pain relief or as a sleeping aid.

Be consistent. If you vary your routine from one dose to the next (sometimes taking the drug on an empty stomach and other times with food) the effects of the medication can change.

If you are hospitalized, your doctor may adjust the dosage or schedule several times to determine the best result. Once the proper routine is determined in the hospital, follow it at home.

Take tablets or capsules with at least a half to a full glass of water. It helps the medication slide down your throat. Also, the proper amount of fluid ensures a more complete and faster absorption of the medication and can decrease stomach irritation.

Alcohol combined with some medications can cause a dangerous reaction.

If you are taking a prescription medication, discuss with your doctor or pharmacist any significant changes in your diet or use of non-prescription drugs. The effects of medications that were prescribed when your diet was normal or your weight was stable can change suddenly with severely restricted food intake or drastic weight loss.

Do not mix medications in coffee, tea or other hot drinks. Hot temperatures can destroy the effectiveness of certain drugs. Also, the tannin in tea can affect the action of some medications.

Do not open, crush or dissolve tablets or capsules without first checking with your doctor or pharmacist. Most time-release medications should be swallowed whole for proper drug absorption.

If you have questions about the drugs you take, or difficulty following the instructions, ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain or suggest a possible alternative medication.

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