When a prescription label reads, “Take one tablet by mouth once daily,” does that mean every day at 8 a.m.? When you eat lunch? Whatever time works best for your daily schedule?
Maintenance medications you take daily to manage a condition or treat a chronic problem are most effective when you:
- Take them around the same time every day, which also helps you remember to take them.
- Take them at the best time, when they work with your body’s natural rhythms and help you receive the maximum amount of benefit from them.
- Know that even a small change in the amount of medication your body absorbs can have a big impact on how you feel.
When to take your medicine
Blood pressure: Timing depends on medicine type. Generally take diuretics early in the day and everything else at bedtime. If you take several meds for blood pressure, take some in the morning and some before bedtime. There are many medication options for treating high blood pressure and people often use more than one.
Some prescriptions are taken once a day; others two or even three times a day.
- Diuretics, or “water-pills:” Take early in the day. If you need a second dose, take it by mid-afternoon to avoid extra trips to the bathroom at nighttime. Diuretics cause you to urinate more and can disrupt sleep if taken near bedtime.
- Other kinds of once-a-day blood pressure pills: If you are over age 55, it’s usually best to take them at night. As you age, your blood pressure no longer dips during your sleep like it does when you’re younger, increasing your risk for stroke and heart attack. Taking blood pressure meds at night can decrease that risk. Two to take at night are ACE inhibitors (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors) and ARBs (angiotensin II receptor blockers).
- Two or more blood pressure medications: If you take more than two medications to control your blood pressure, it may be best to split them up. Take one or two in the morning and the other one or two before bedtime.
Thyroid: Take first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.
- Many people need to take thyroid medications to replace the hormones their thyroids are no longer making. Thyroid medications can interact with other meds so always take them on an empty stomach with no other medications.
Cholesterol: Take statins before bedtime.
- Statins are the most commonly used medications to maintain lower blood cholesterol levels. Statin medications slow your body’s process of making cholesterol. Normally the body ramps up production of cholesterol when you haven’t eaten for a while or while you are sleeping. So in general you take statin medications in the evening between dinner and bedtime to slow cholesterol production. Some of the newer statins last longer in the body after you take them. With these, it’s less important to take them in the evening. However, taking them at bedtime might still make them more effective.
Talk to your healthcare team
The best way to take medications can vary not only with the drug but with individual factors like age.
It’s important to let your doctor and pharmacist know about everything you’re taking, including over-the-counter products, because medications can interact with each other, changing how they work.
Keep an updated list of all of your medications in your purse or wallet in case of a medical emergency. It’s hard to remember names, doses, and instructions.
Dr. Junwei Liu is an internal medicine physician at Aurora Wilkinson Medical Clinic in Summit, WI.