The danger of skipping daily medication
Taking your prescribed medications is not only crucial for treating a short-term health condition or illness, but it plays an imperative role in preventing long-term complications.
Taking medication for conditions that don’t noticeably affect you can be frustrating, but there’s a good reason. For example, even if you cannot feel symptoms of high blood pressure, if high blood pressure is not treated, it can lead to heart attack or stroke.
What is Medication Adherence?
Medication adherence is taking medication as recommended by a health care provider. A person who takes their medication 80% or more of the time is considered to be adhering to their medication recommendations.
At the individual level, adherence to prescribed medications improves our quality of life and can prevent disease progression and associated complications.
On a larger scale, medication nonadherence has profound implications for health care costs. A review of studies found that medication non-adherence leads to poor health outcomes, increased use of health services and overall health care costs. This can ultimately create higher copayments or increase your employer’s coverage costs.
This article explains why drugs are prescribed, how best to access drugs, and tips for adherence.
Adherence to medications for primary prevention
It can be difficult to understand why it is necessary to take medication even when you are feeling well. And when it comes to staying healthy, medication adherence can be just as crucial as other preventative care measures like vaccinations and health checkups. Also, it is necessary to stick to the prescribed treatment regimen to prevent certain conditions from getting worse over time.
Below, we describe two common examples in which taking your prescribed medications is essential.
Statins for heart disease risk
Statins, such as Lipitor (atorvastatin), Crestor (rosuvastatin), or Zocor (simvastatin), are frequently prescribed to help lower cholesterol levels and prevent complications such as heart attacks and strokes.
People with high cholesterol usually have no symptoms. It may seem too easy to skip a dose here and there or even stop taking the drug if the side effects, like muscle aches, are too bothersome. But having high levels of LDL cholesterol can cause fat to build up in your blood vessels, leading to heart attack or stroke.
Although high cholesterol usually has no symptoms, it is essential to take the medication as prescribed to prevent these complications, which can be life-threatening or fatal.
Antibiotics for bacterial infections
Here’s a common scenario: Your healthcare provider prescribes you a 10-day course of antibiotics for a bacterial strep throat infection. On the fifth day, you feel fine. Thinking you are cured, you stop taking your medication. Slowly but surely the infection returns.
Antibiotics are designed to be taken for a set amount of time. If you stop too soon, the bacteria can come back and you’ll feel sick again. Antibiotics can have bothersome side effects, making it tempting to cut your treatment short. In this case, you can talk to your health care provider. They may replace your antibiotic with one that you might tolerate better.
Completing your full course of antibiotics is especially important for preventing antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance is when drugs no longer work because bacteria can get them under control, and it’s a big public health problem. That’s why it’s essential to take antibiotics exactly as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
Note that antibiotics do not treat viral infections such as colds, flu, or COVID-19.
Most of the time, you should avoid stopping your antibiotic treatment prematurely. However, you should immediately stop your treatment and consult a doctor if you think you are having an allergic reaction. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the face, lips, throat or tongue.
These are just a few examples of why membership is so important. Several types of pharmaceutical treatments help prevent further complications and worsening of disease. Even if you feel fine, the medications you take every day can still be hard at work in your system to keep you healthy. Don’t be afraid to talk to your health care provider and ask questions.
Support for your medication regimen
Although you may have the best intentions of taking your medications as recommended by a health care provider, things can get in the way. Below are common reasons for medication non-adherence.
About 75% of adults in the United States find prescription drug costs unaffordable and nearly 33% of adults admit that they have not taken their medications as directed due to high prices. On average, American adults pay more than $1,500 per person per year for their medications. However, there are ways to reduce your costs.
Ask your healthcare professional about generic medications if they are available for your condition(s). Medications available in generic form can result in significant cost savings. In some cases, no generic version may be available. For example, Livalo is a brand name statin used to treat high cholesterol. There are currently no generics of Livalo. In this case, you can do several things:
- Before filling the brand name prescription at your pharmacy, check the manufacturer’s website for savings, such as copay cards, coupons, rebates or patient assistance programs.
- Ask your health care provider to prescribe another statin that has a generic version, such as atorvastatin, rosuvastatin, or simvastatin.
- Ask your healthcare provider and pharmacist for more personalized advice if you need help finding ways to save on your prescriptions.
Most medications come with a long list of side effects. Chances are you will only experience mild side effects, if any. However, some side effects may persist or become bothersome.
Take, for example, an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor (such as lisinopril), which is commonly prescribed for blood pressure. ACE inhibitors are known to cause a dry cough which can be unpleasant for many people. Your first instinct may be to stop taking the offending drug. However, the best thing to do is to contact the healthcare professional as soon as possible so that a better tolerated alternative medication can be prescribed.
Above all, if you feel like you are experiencing a minor side effect, don’t panic. Remember that you can communicate what you are experiencing to your health care provider, whether it is the medical professional who prescribed the medication or your local pharmacist. Often they will be able to guide you through the next steps.
Medication Adherence Advice
Now that you understand why medication adherence is important, how will you ensure that you take your medications as prescribed?
Here are some helpful tips:
- Set a daily reminder on your phone.
- Use an app to remind you to take your medication. Some apps even let you set up reminder phone calls.
- Use a weekly medication organizer to keep your medications in order. It will also help you be proactive by knowing when you’re about to run out of your meds so you can call for refills at the pharmacy a few days earlier. This will take into account delays, for example when a medicine needs to be ordered.
- Make it part of your routine by taking your medications at the same time each day. Ask your pharmacist if you can take all your medications together. For example, let’s say you need to take your thyroid medication in the morning on an empty stomach, but you can take the rest of your medication in the evening. You can create a routine where you take your thyroid medications as soon as you wake up (and have breakfast an hour later) and take all your other medications before you brush your teeth every night.
And remember that your healthcare team is there to help. Don’t be afraid to contact them for specific issues.
Identifying why you’re having trouble staying adherent can help you and your healthcare provider develop a more personalized solution. For example, you can ask for written instructions if you have trouble remembering your supplier’s advice. You can also make a list of medications that you have not tolerated well in the past so that you can refer to them moving forward. And if you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. You can take steps to take charge of your health.
Taking your medications as prescribed can affect your health in the short and long term. Some medical conditions are not associated with symptoms, especially in the early stages. It can be helpful to understand why you are taking each medication so you realize the importance of sticking to your medication regimen.
And if you’re having issues with adherence, remember that there’s no need to feel embarrassed to talk to your healthcare provider about it. Be open and honest about why you’re having trouble sticking to your diet. It can be a few minor tweaks – maybe a cheaper drug or a lower dose – that will put you on the path to a healthier life.
Consult your health care provider if you have trouble following your diet due to side effects, cost, or any other issues. They can help you find a solution.
A word from Verywell
Taking medication can feel frustrating or unnecessary when you don’t have symptoms. Know that your health care provider cares about your current and future health and tries to prevent complications. Understanding why you take each medication can help you realize the importance of adherence.
Some people may have trouble adhering to medications that cause side effects and may want to stop taking medication. Instead, if you have trouble sticking to your medication regimen for any reason, contact your healthcare provider. They will be more than willing to help you adjust your diet to ensure you achieve your best health.