This review will cover how to read a medication label.
As a nurse, it is very important you are familiar with how to read a medication label. The drug label contains helpful information that will guide you with safely administering a medication to a patient.
In this review you will learn:
- What information is included on most medication labels
- How to identify that information
- How to determine how much of a medication you will administer based on the information found on the label
How to Read a Medication Label (Nursing)
For this review, I will be referencing to this “mock” medication label. Please refer back to this label to help you identify the information below as I cover it:
Trade Name/Brand Name:
- This is the registered name given by the drug company who owns the rights it to. You may notice a registered trademark symbol at the end of the name (which is an R with a circle around it). This means the name is “registered”.
- Patent protection rights are given to the company who will solely market the medication under the brand name. During this time the generic form of the drug is not available until the patent expires.
- Once the patent expires, other companies can market the drug. These companies may create different brand names for the medication, but the generic name should be listed with the medication as well. Therefore, it’s important to note that you can see different brand names of certain medications.
- The brand name is usually a lot easier to pronounce than the generic name.
- In addition, the first letter is capitalized and it’s the largest or boldest.
- The generic drug name represents the active ingredient in the drug, which is why it is usually harder to pronounce and spell because these words represent chemicals.
- There is only ONE generic name for a drug and will always be included on the medication label. Sometimes, only the generic name will be used for a medication. This is usually for medications that are very well known and have been on the scene for many decades.
- The generic name is typically written at the bottom of the brand name in parentheses and contains all lower case letters.
- The endings of most generic names tend to be similar for certain family groups of medications. As a nurse, this makes it easier to identify that specific category of drugs.
- The nurse needs to be aware of both the brand and generic name because either one can be ordered for the patient.
- Generic drugs are typically cheaper in cost than the brand name, but they work the same. Therefore, this can save your patients 100s to 1000s of dollars on medications.
- Keep in mind the generic drug (ex: capsule/tablet/pill) will look different than the brand name drug. Therefore, always educate the patient about this when administering the medication.
- You may see an USP beside the generic name. This stands for United States Pharmacopeia. It means the medication has passed specific quality standards and has a seal of approval on it. *It does not represent a certain measurement or release of the medication.
- If a medication is designed to be released in the body in a certain way, this release will be listed next to the drug name and further specified on the label. You can see an example below. Some Examples: CR: controlled release, IR: immediate release, EC: enteric coated, XR: extended release, CD: controlled delivery etc.
**It’s very important the nurse looks at this part of the mediation label. This is because depending on the form the medication is in, it cannot be crushed or chewed. This would alter the rate at which the medication works in the body and potentially have an adverse reaction on the patient.
Supplied Form of the Medication:
This tells the nurse how the medication is supplied. For example, this medication is via capsules. Also, medications can be in tablets, solutions/suspensions (oral, eye, ear, or injection), topical, suppositories etc.
The examples below demonstrates a solution for injection and the other demonstrates an oral solution:
This is the amount of drug that is in the specific dosage form supplied. You will see a number with the measurement unit beside it. This typically represents the amount per capsule, tablet, or for the solution per mL. The mg stands for miligrams. You can also have mcg or grams, and for solutions it will be written mg/ml or mcg/ml etc. It’s telling you that for every mL you draw up, drop in, or pour there is this specific amount of mediation in it.
So, first let’s look at this label:
This medication labels tells us that each capsule has 250 mg of this medication in it. You can also look at the printed directions on the label for further details about the strength. Therefore, let’s say the doctor ordered 500 mg of fauxpharmoide? How many capsules would you give?
Answer: 2 capsules
Now let’s look at this label:
This label is for a solution (specifically an intravenous or IM injection) that has a dosage strength of 5 mg/5mL or equivalent of 1 mL equaling 1mg. This tells me that for every 1mL I draw up in the syringe I’m giving 1 mg of this medication. So let’s say the doctor ordered 2.5 mg? How many mL would I draw up?
Answer: 2.5 mL
This is the route the medication is administered. Unless specified, capsules and tablets are usually given orally, therefore, it is not written on the label to give orally. However, some tablets and capsules are administered different routes (but again this should be specified on the label).
For example, nitroglycerin tablets are ordered to help treat chest pain. These tablets are placed under the tongue and the label will say “nitroglycerin sublingual tablets”.
Other routes: injection…note the type (intramuscular, intravenous, subcutaneous), eyes, ears, rectal, vaginally, inhaled, nasal, transdermal etc.
Total Amount or Volume:
This is the total amount or volume of that medication in the container, bottle, or vial. Here there are 50 capsules.
Below is an example of a liquid medication. It contains a total volume 100 ml after reconstitution.
Lot Number and Expiration Date:
These two numbers are typically located together. The lot number is helpful with identifying recalled medications and to help the manufacturer track the medication.
The expiration date tells you when the medication is expired. Always check this date and don’t administer expired medications to a patient, but discard them according to your facility’s protocols.
This details a description of the medication, dosages (these details are located in the pamphlet that was included with the medication package), how to prepare the medication if needed, storage details (some meds have to be refrigerated, kept away from light), etc.
Manufacturer and Distributer’s Name and Address:
These are details on who made the medication and who is distributing it. This can be the same name or two different names.
This is used many times in the hospital to help identify the medication in the medication system and during administration.
NDC Number (National Drug Code):
This is the number the FDA uses to identify drugs. It has three sets of numbers that are hyphenated. The first numbers are assigned by the FDA, and they are the labeler’s code. The other numbers are given by the company. The middle numbers are the product code and the last numbers are the package code.
Test Your Knowledge on “How to Read a Medication Label”.
Are generic drugs the same as brand name drugs?. HHS.gov. (2014). Retrieved 17 October 2021, from https://www.hhs.gov/answers/public-health-and-safety/are-generic-drugs-the-same-as-brand-name-drugs/index.html.
Generic Drug Facts. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2021). Retrieved 17 October 2021, from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/generic-drugs/generic-drug-facts.
National Drug Code Directory. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020). Retrieved 17 October 2021, from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-approvals-and-databases/national-drug-code-directory.