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Is It Bad to Take Expired Pills?

The Truth About Expiration Dates on Medications, According to a Doctor

If you're thinking about taking pills that are past their expiration date, you might want to double check on their safety. Sure, you might want to save a trip to the store or some dough, but if you could be putting yourself at risk, it's definitely worth tossing the old medications and spending a bit more time and cash.

When it comes to putting any substance in your body, you want to make sure you're taking the right doses and getting the relief you need. The good news is, taking medications beyond their expiration dates is actually OK in terms of safety, but it might not be as effective as a fresh prescription would be, and it can depend on the type of medication you're taking, as well. If you're concerned, speak to a physician (if it's not over the counter, as well).

What Do Expiration Dates Mean?

Expiration dates are required by FDA regulations. "The concept that drugs have expiration dates is the result of FDA rulings that were developed over 50 years ago that required manufacturers to add this information to the label. The goal of the expiration is to allow the FDA to guarantee that medications are not only safe but effective for patients," said Dr. Robert Glatter, MD, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwell Health and attending emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital, to POPSUGAR.

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"The process of determining a drug's shelf life is quite interesting in itself. The manufacturing subjects it to extreme heat and moisture to understand how it breaks down immediately and over the longer term, under such adverse conditions," he said. The manufacturer provides an estimated expiration date for the FDA to approve. While different drugs can display distinct qualities to influence the expiration date, most of them expire after two to three years, he said. The expiration date can be set by manufacturers themselves, and this can often lead to more discarded items than is necessary. (You're not doing your wallet any good here.)

But You Can Extend Them

It's true, you can extend them about a year beyond the date without any harm to your health or exposure to toxicity, Glatter said. "In fact, there are no reported cases in the medical literature linking toxicity or harm to patients from taking expired medications," he said.

However, the effectiveness is in question, as the potency will degrade over time. When you take expired medicine, you risk having only about 80-90 percent effectiveness or so, he said, and so you may not get as much of an effect as you're looking for.

This isn't likely problematic with OTC meds, like Advil or Tylenol, he said; however, it could be more serious if it's regarding a blood pressure medication or a heart medication or requires use of an EpiPen for allergic reactions (which can be dangerous if the EpiPen isn't functioning as optimally as it should).

For prescriptions given to you by a doctor, you might want to inquire about the shelf life past the expiration date, as well as proper storing measures, to get an idea of how quickly the potency will wither away with time. Your doctor will advise you on how much time you have and whether or not you can still get the adequate doses you need.

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