How To Read Your Medicine Bottles


Recent changes in the labels of some medications and supplements can cause confusion among pharmacists and patients. Sometimes different dosages come in similar containers, and in other weights are described in a new way. It’s important to understand these changes.

What to look for in medicine from your Medical Supply Store

Keep the following labeling principles in mind:

  • Double-check the measurement that is printed on the package.
  • When in doubt, check the National Drug Code numbers.
  • Be aware of supplements with concentration now measured in metric units. Formerly these were listed in international units. Pharmacists are recommending both the old and the new units be included on the package, but both measurements may not always be present.

Examples of label changes

  • Rabies immune globulin, or HyperRAB, from Grifols, now has a more concentrated form. The concentration has been increased from 150 to 300 units in each milliliter, a change designed to improve the drug’s effectiveness.

It comes in one milliliter and five milliliter vials, but the vials and their packages look identical. Only by carefully checking the amount, or the National Drug Code number, can you tell which is which.

  • Vitamins A, D and E are supplements that are no longer labeled in international units, but are now labeled in milligrams or micrograms. This is the result of an FDA ruling that requires supplements to list not only the dose but also the percent of daily requirement.

For example, some vitamin D oral drops are now labeled 10 micrograms per milliliter rather than 400 international units per milliliter.

News of these changes has not yet reached all health care providers, much less consumers, so it’s particularly important to use all the required caution in reading labels and dispensing and consuming medications and supplements.