Drug Safety:
Reading Labels and Patient Information

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Why Read Labels and Information Sheets?

Your prescription drug comes in a bottle or a box with a label. You also receive written information about the drug from your pharmacy. Both the label and the information sheet tell you important safety information.

How to Read a Drug Label

Pharmacy labels have a lot of information. Here are the things to look for on a drug label. Each pharmacy may put the information in a different place. To learn more, visit our free website,


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How to Read a Patient Information Sheet

Your pharmacy gives you printed safety information with each prescription. Here are the things to look for on a patient information sheet:

Warning or Cautions

  • What you need to tell your doctor before you take the drug.
  • The main risks of taking the drug.


  • The health problems that the drug treats.
  • How the drug works.

How to Use

  • How to take the drug.
  • How often to take it.
  • Whether or not to chew it or take it with food.

Side Effects

  • The most common side effects.
  • When to tell your doctor about a side effect.
  • Side effects that are rare but serious and what you should do if you have one.

Precautions/Before Using this Medicine

  • The things you need to tell your doctor before you start the drug, like any other drugs and supplements you take and if you are pregnant or allergic to any drugs.

Drug Interactions

  • The other drugs that you should avoid while you are taking this drug. These other drugs can make the new drug less effective or increase the side effects. This may include some over-the-counter drugs and supplements, too.


  • The phone number to call if you think you took too much of the drug.

Notes/Additional Information

  • Other information about taking this drug.

Missed Dose

  • What to do if you forget to take the drug.


  • Where to keep the drug.
  • How to throw away the drug safely.
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This series is produced by Consumers Union and Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, a public information project supported by grants from the Engelberg Foundation and the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health. These materials were also made possible by a grant from the State Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program which is funded by the multi-state settlement of consumer fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin. This brief should not be viewed as a substitute for a consultation with a medical or health professional. It is provided to enhance communication with your doctor, not replace it. Neither the National Library of Medicine nor the National Institutes of Health are responsible for the content or advice herein.