What will the medicine do for me?

To understand the benefits of your medicine, you need to know what it does (its effect) and how well it works. Here are some pointers to finding out what your medicine will do for you.

To work out the benefits of your medicine, you need to know what it does (its effect) and how well it works. Here are some pointers to finding out what your medicine will do for you.

A medicine or medication can work in different ways, it might:

  • prevent an illness from developing
  • reduce some or all of the symptoms
  • stop an illness from getting worse
  • cure an illness
  • prevent complications developing.

Here are some questions for you to think about and discuss with your health professional:

  • How will this medicine help my illness?
  • Which benefits are important to me?
  • How will I know the medicine is working and how long will that take?
  • How well is the medicine likely to work?

How will this medicine help my illness?

Different medicines can help different aspects of your illness. For example, if you were having an asthma attack you would use a short-acting inhaled medicine (reliever) to open up your airways and quickly help your breathing. However, this won’t make future asthma attacks any milder or less frequent — you would need to take regular doses of another medicine to reduce inflammation in your airways (preventer) to do that.

CMI close-up

Consumer medicine information (CMI)

To understand how a medicine might help, you need to find out what benefits it is expected to have by talking to your health professional. You can also find information, including the consumer medicine information (CMI), through the NPS medicine search. Talk it over with your health professional if you have any questions about it.

Sometimes it is helpful to have a list of questions and take notes when you are talking to your health professional. You can use our Questions to ask your health professional tool to make a printable list of questions, with space for you to write answers to questions.

Video transcript

CMI stands for consumer medicine information. This is a leaflet that comes with all prescribed medicines, and some of the medicines that you buy at the pharmacy, and it gives you information about what the medicine is for, how and when you should take it, what to do if you miss a dose and other very important information, such as possible side effects and interactions with other medicines.

CMIs have a lot of information in them and it’s not necessary to read them from beginning to end. You may just pick it up and try to find when you should be taking the dose, what time of day — or with food or without food. You may pick it up because you want to check on side effects, and the important thing to remember about these CMIs, which can be a bit daunting when you first see them, is that they’re all in exactly the same order, so that if you have several medicines you will find that the structure of the CMI is the same and you will quickly learn how to go straight to the piece of information that you are looking for.

Which benefits are important to me?

Different things are important to different people, so think about what benefits are important to you. When you talk to your health professional, explain which benefits are most important to you — or what aspects of your illness trouble you the most — and find out if the medicine can help, or if there is another reason for taking it.

Many people with high blood pressure do not notice any symptoms, and so controlling their blood pressure does not seem like an important benefit. But most people want to avoid a stroke or heart attack. Being told that taking blood pressure medicines can reduce their risk of a stroke, can help people make their decision.

How will I know if the medicine is working and how long will that take?

Some medicines, such as pain-relief medicines, should have an almost immediate effect. Others, such as antidepressants, often take 2–3 weeks to make a noticeable difference.

When you start taking a new medicine, ask your health professional:

  • How quickly will the medicine start working?
  • How will I know it is working?
  • When should I come back to review how well it is working?

How well is the medicine likely to work?

Even when a medicine is known to work, it is usually not expected to be 100% effective for 100% of people. You might want to try to find out how much of an effect it is likely to have.

Your health professional can’t predict exactly how well a medicine will work for you. Sometimes you may need to try different medicines to find one that works for you.

Not everyone responds the same way to medicines. Antidepressants are a good example: genetic and other differences can mean what works for one person doesn’t work for another. If you don’t feel you are getting a benefit from the antidepressant after 6 weeks or so, talk to your health professional about trying another type.

As well as your health professional’s experience with other people taking the same medicine , information about how well it works usually comes from clinical trials and other research. These trials can tell you how many people in a scientific study received a benefit from treatment, and how great (or small) that benefit was.

Other things to keep in mind

When starting a new medicine, you might also want to think about side effects, other treatment options, interactions with other medicines, costs and how the medicine has to be taken.