Don't Let Your Meds Fail You, Like They Did Maria Sharapova

by Dr Jonathan D'Souza
The recent news of the provisional suspension of five-time Grand Slam tennis champion and the world's highest-paid female athelete, Maria Sharapova, has once again emphasized the need to understand the medicines we take.

Sharapova tested positive for the banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open quarterfinals where she lost to Serena Williams. Her suspension will be effective pending a ruling in the case by the sport's governing body. 

The 28-year-old Russian is the most prominent professional athlete to be barred for meldonium to date. Sharapova confessed to not clicking on the link for the newly banned list of drugs sent to players via email by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) earlier this year. However, she also was only familiar with the drug, which a family doctor had been prescribing to her for years, under a different name (mildronate) and didn't make the connection. Regardless, in a news conference held Monday said “I take full responsibility for it.”

Meldonium is a drug that aids blood flow for heart patients and was originally developed in Latvia. The drug, however, is not approved for sale in the US. It is often mis-used to improve endurance and capacity for exercise in athletes, which is why it recently made the list of banned substances.

As Sharapova deals with the fallout, including major brands withdrawing sponsorship, the case also raises questions about how aware we are of the drugs that are prescribed to us.

Drugs, whether they are natural (herbal) or synthetic, are intended to act on the body. With every drug, there is a possibility of unwanted effects being produced. Also, if more than one drug is taken at a time, one drug may interact with another in a positive or negative way. When used correctly, most medicines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do more good than harm.

When you are prescribed a new medicine, it is important to ask your doctor/ pharmacist questions to gain a better understanding of the medicines you are supposed to take. Here are a few questions you need to ask your healthcare provider.

What Is The Medicine For?
Some medicines can be used for many different health conditions. So, it is important to know why you've been prescribed a specific medicine.

How Many Times A Day Do You Need To Take The Medicine?
Some medicines have a longer life in the body and taking a single tablet a day could suffice. However, shorter acting medicines may need to be taken more often, even two or three times a day. Medicines that are given for general headaches may only be needed for that moment and would not be required to be taken regularly.

How Long Do You Need To Take The Medicine For?
Some medicines are taken for a short duration, such as antibiotics. Other medicines that are taken for chronic diseases such as diabetes may need to be taken for years. Do you need to take the medicine with water or after food? Are there foods that you should avoid while taking the medicine? These are a few questions that you may need to ask your healthcare provider.

Will This Medicine Interact With Any Other Medicines That You Are Currently Taking?
This question holds true for over-the-counter medicines and any herbal supplements that you may order online. It is important to consult your doctor before buying any such medicine.

What Are The Possible Side Effects Of The Medicine?
How do I deal with a possible side effect of the drug? Can I do something to lessen it?

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