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Do You Always Take Your Medicine as Directed?

It sounds so simple: your health care provider prescribes medication to treat your high blood pressure or a course of antibiotics for strep throat. For a while you take it as directed and then somewhere along the way, you don’t. Maybe you forget a few days or you’re no longer feeling sick. Maybe you’re taking it, but not the way you’re supposed to. For example, the medication should be taken on an empty stomach and you’re taking it after breakfast.

If this hasn’t happened to you, chances are it has to someone you care about, such as an aging parent. Medication labels can sometimes be confusing to read. According to the American Heart Association, three out of four Americans do not take their medication as directed, which can have serious consequences. In the U.S. alone, poor medication compliance contributes to the deaths of 125,000 people every year and costs nearly $300 billion in medical care.

Why Don’t People Always Take Their Medication?

There are all kinds of reasons for medication noncompliance. Some of those reasons include:

  • Not filling the prescription – Nearly 25 percent of new prescriptions for blood pressure medicine are never filled.
  • Fading symptoms – Many people who don’t feel sick will not continue to treat a problem they don’t notice.
  • Forgetfulness – Sometimes people just forget to take their medication or refill a prescription.
  • Not understanding the directions – People can be confused by what’s been written, particularly when there are multiple medicines.
  • Concerned about side effects – Sometimes medication can make people feel worse, so they don’t take it.
  • Concerned about cost – Some people can’t afford to fill prescriptions or, to save money, take less than the prescribed dose.

If you or someone you know is having difficulty with their medication, the suggestions below can help. They may also help with controlling medication costs.

  • Read the instructions when you first get your medication. Ask or call your pharmacist for clarification if there is something you do not understand.
  • Use a pill box. A pill box marked with the days of the week can help keep track of medications that need to be taken daily.
  • Incorporate medications into your routine. For example, if the instructions say take the medication daily, take it immediately after you brush your teeth.
  • Ask if it’s possible to minimize medications. Your doctor may be able to replace your medication with something that doesn’t have to be taken as often.
  • Ask about generics. Generic versions are not as expensive as their name-brand counterparts.
  • Ask if it’s safe to split your medication. Depending on the medication, splitting can sometimes save money because you’re getting two doses for the price of one.

Dangerous Consequences of Noncompliance:

High blood pressure (hypertension), which affects one in three U.S. adults, is one example of a condition that can lead to serious complications when prescribed medication isn’t taken as directed. High blood pressure increases risk for heart disease, a leading cause of death in the U.S. and Canada. Heart disease increases risk for stroke, and as we are now learning, there is growing evidence of a link between stroke and dementia.

What about that course of antibiotics that wasn’t completed because your symptoms went away? Even if someone no longer feels pain from strep throat, the bacteria that caused it may not have been completely eradicated. Exposure to the antibiotic can increase its resistance to the drug, making it more difficult to treat. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a growing threat to public health.

Be sure to discuss any concerns about medication with your healthcare provider. If a loved one is having difficulty with compliance, make sure their healthcare providers are aware. Doing so will help keep you and those you care about healthy today and help ensure their health long-term.

The LHSFNA’s Smart Medicine brochure includes a medication record to help you keep track of your prescription and over-the-counter drugs and supplements. Keep this record up to date and bring it with you when you see your healthcare provider. Visit our online Publications Catalogue to order this publication and other Fund materials that can help protect your health and safety.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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