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  • Pharmapedia

    Welcome to's Pharmapedia!'s Pharmapedia is a place where you can find simple definitions of complicated words, related to pharmacy and medications. All definitions have been written by the Harlem Health Promotion Center (HHPC) staff and reviewed by our Health Advisory Board (HAB) to make sure they are correct and complete. For simple definitions of all other health terms, check out our Healthopedia page

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    ACE inhibitor: These are a group of pharmaceutical drugs used to treat hypertension (high blood pressure) and congestive heart failure. These drugs slow the growth of a chemical in the body called Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme. This chemical causes muscles to get tighter (contract) around blood vessels, making these blood vessels narrower and smaller. When blood vessels are too narrow, blood has a hard time quickly getting to the areas in the body. This causes the pressure in these vessels to go up. ACE inhibitor and ARB (Angiotensin ii Receptor Blocker) drugs keep pressure down by controlling the chemicals that cause these muscle contractions. These drugs are also used to stop damage to the kidneys in diabetes patients.

    ARB inhibitor: See "ACE inhibitor."

    Active ingredient: This is the main chemical substance found in a drug or medication that cause chemical changes in the body. Sometimes the active ingredients of one medication can badly mix with the active ingredients of another medication. This can lead to life-threatening or severe results so it's important to tell your doctor about all the medicines that you are taking.

    Alendronate (Fosamax): A drug commonly taken to treat osteoporosis.

    Allergic reaction: Your body's way of responding to an "invader." You can have an allergic reaction when you take certain medications because your body does not accept some ingredient of that medication. It is not recommended that you take any medications that have that ingredient. For example, a patient who breaks out with hives after taking Penicillin should not be given any medicine that has Penicillin in it. Tell your pharmacist if you get a rash, have tightness in your chest, have difficulty breathing or other problems when you take a certain medicine.

    Anally: Insertion through the anus or butt.

    Anti-coagulation drugs: Medicines that dissolve blood clots.

    Antibiotics: Drugs that are used to treat infections caused by bacteria.

    Antiretroviral drugs: Medications for the treatment of infection by a certain group of viruses called ‘retroviruses'. Different types of antiretroviral drugs are effective at different stages of the HIV life cycle. A combination of several (typically three or four) antiretroviral drugs is known as Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART).

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    Beta blocker: Drugs that are commonly prescribed by a doctor to lower a person's high blood pressure and reduce the chances of having a heart attack.

    Blood thinner: These types of drugs lower the chances of having a heart attack or stroke because they lessen your chances of getting a blood clot in your arteries [Link to Healthopedia] or veins.

    Brand name drug: A drug or medication that has the name of a specific product of a business or company. It can only be made and sold by the company owning the brand name. Some examples include: Flagyl and Chantix. Sometimes there are generic versions of the drugs. Generic drugs do not have the same patent protection (legal rights for the inventor of the drug) of the brand name drug, but have the same active ingredients as the original formulation (of the brand name drug). Sometimes they cost less money than the brand name drug.

    Bupropion (Zyban): A prescription medication available in pill form that reduces nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms when a person is quitting smoking. It does not contain nicotine.

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    Capsaicin cream: A skin cream that is sold over-the-counter. It is used to treat pain and itching.  

    Chantix: See "Varenicline."

    Compounding: The mixing of drugs or medications by a pharmacist.

    Controlled substance medications: Controlled substance medications are prescribed to treat medical conditions such as pain, anxiety, and attention-deficit disorder. These medications have the possibility of causing harm to the patient if used incorrectly. For safety and security, prescriptions for controlled substances are limited in terms of the amount of medication given out to the patient.

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    Digoxin (Lanoxin): A drug used to treat heart conditions, such as congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation [Link to Healthopedia, and heart rhythm disorders. It increases the strength and force of heart contractions. Brand names of this drug include: Lanoxin, Digitek, and Lanoxicaps.

    Diuretic: Any drug, food, supplements, or substance that will help the body to get rid of fluids and increase urination.

    Dosage: A measured portion of medicine taken at any one time.

    Drug-drug interaction: An unwanted change in the way a medication works in your body when taken with another medication. It most often reduces or increases how the medicine works, which is bad for your body.

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    Effectiveness: The ability of a medication to bring about a wanted effect of result.

    Enteric coated: A material covering a pill that controls where in your body the medication will be absorbed. "Enteric" refers to the small intestine. When a pill has enteric coating, it means that the medication will dissolve in the small intestine, not the stomach.

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    Flagyl: See "Metronidazole."

    Fosamax: See "Alendronate."

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    Generic drug:  A drug that has the same active ingredients as a brand name drug, but often costs less because it is produced after the patent on the brand drug expires.

    Glucophage: See "Metformin."

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    Herbal supplements: Supplements that are made out of plants. They are often used by herbalists and in herbal medicine.

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    Immunization: A way to protect your immune system from a virus or disease. Many immunizations are given to young children as shots. Immunization exposes you to a very small, safe amount of an infection so your body's defenses can destroy it and prevent you from getting the infection later in life.

    Inactive ingredients: These are the materials in the drug or medication that are not the active ingredients. They do not cause changes in the body as the active ingredients do and do not cause side effects. They are used in the process to make the drug and have many reasons for being used, such as providing a base for the active ingredient or to make the pill look or taste good.

    Interaction: With medications, this means the effect of one medicine on another. An interaction between two medications can change the effectiveness of one or more drugs. Pharmacists would be able to tell you the drugs that won’t work well with other drugs you may be taking. If you don't fill your prescription at the same pharmacy every time, one pharmacy may not have the information about all the medications you're taking. Be sure to tell the pharmacist at the new pharmacy so they can check these interactions.

    Interfere: When medications get in the way of each other preventing the medications from working properly.

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    Lanoxin: See "Digoxin."

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    Medicare Part D: Insurance from an insurance company or private company approved by Medicare that covers prescription drugs. If you are eligible for Medicare, this part of your insurance covers your prescription medications.

    Medication adherence:  The term used to describe a patient who consistently (and correctly) follows the instructions given by the doctor on how often to, when, and how to take their medications.

    Metformin (Glucophage): A drug used to treat diabetes. Metformin lowers blood sugar levels by decreasing the amount of sugar produced by the liver.

    Metronidazole (Flagyl): A type of antibiotic commonly prescribed by your doctor for a number of bacterial infections.

    Monitor/Monitoring: Your doctor, pharmacist, nurse or other health care provider may use the term “monitor or monitoring” to talk about keeping track of your progress or to measure how your disease may have worsened or improved over time. Some ways to help monitor your progress are your symptoms, lab results, and blood pressure readings. 

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    Non-adherence: When patients do not the follow the instructions given by the doctor on how often, when and how to take their medications.

    Non-controlled substance medications: Non-controlled substance medications are prescribed to treat medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and bacterial infections. Prescriptions for non-controlled substances are not subject to some of the same limitations as controlled substance prescriptions. 

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    Original date: Your doctor must put the date s/he wrote the prescription for you. The original date can be found on the upper right hand corner of the prescription. The date is necessary because all non-controlled prescriptions expire after one year. All controlled prescriptions expire after one month.

    Over the Counter (OTC): Medications that are available without a prescription and are located outside the pharmacy area along with the regular store products.

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    Patent: A set of special legal rights that protects inventors from other people or companies copying the active ingredients. Patents last for a certain period of time.   

    Penicillin: A type of antibiotic commonly prescribed by your doctor to treat bacterial infections.

    Pharm D: Doctor of Pharmacy

    Pharmaceutical: Any chemical substance that can be used for diagnosis, cure, treatment, or prevention of a disease. Also known as medication, medicine, or drug.  Pharmaceutical care is anything related to pharmacies, such as patient education or giving medications to patients.

    Pharmacist: A pharmacist is trained to help you take your medicines in a safe way and get the most benefit from them. It’s her or his job to review your prescription and make sure you get exactly the medication that your health care provider asked for. They also give you and other health care providers (like your doctor and nurse practitioner) information on medications and over-the-counter drugs.  Your pharmacist can help you understand all of your medications. 

    Pharmacy: The art and science of preparing and giving out drugs and medications. It is also the place where drugs and medications are given out—a drugstore.

    Pharmacy intern: A pharmacy intern must have a permit to practice pharmacy under the direct supervision of a licensed pharmacist. Pharmacy students must complete an internship experience to graduate from a pharmacy program. A pharmacy intern can counsel patients on medications ONLY under the supervision of a pharmacist.

    Pharmacy technician: A technician helps the pharmacist in giving out or “dispensing” medicines. The pharmacist must oversee a technician in filling the prescriptions. Their main duties include dispensing, counting, packaging, and labeling medications for patients.  A technician helps in getting medications ready for customers, but they are not allowed to counsel patients on medications.

    Prescription: A written direction or order by your doctor for a certain medication or treatment.

    Prescription medicines: These are pharmaceutical medications that can only be obtained through a doctor's prescription that is filled and given out by a pharmacist. Prescription medicines can be divided into 2 categories: controlled substance medications and non-controlled substance medications.

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    Risk of abuse:  These drugs have the potential to become addictive. Restrictions are placed on these drugs to lessen the amount of people abusing them because of addiction.

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    Saquinavir: An antiretroviral drug used in HIV therapy. Saquinavir is used to control the HIV protease enzyme so that the HIV virus does not multiply.

    Side effects: Unwanted or bad reactions to a drug, medication, or treatment. A side effect may happen at the same time as the good effect. For example, a pain reliever stops a headache, but a possible side effect might be a stomachache.

    Steroids: Steroids are a type of medicine that is used to control inflammation.

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    Theophylline: A medication used to treat respiratory diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or asthma.

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    Vaginally: Insertion through the vagina in females.

    Varenicline (Chantix): This is a prescription medication that reduces nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms when a person is quitting smoking. It does not contain nicotine. Heavy smokers benefit most from this medication.

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    Zyban: See "Bupropion."

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