To boost medication adherence, there are plenty of apps and products geared toward helping you remember to take your meds—from simple “days of the week” pill boxes to digital reminders, these prompts help those who struggle with medication schedules, especially if multiple meds are involved.
But what if memory and organization aren’t the real issues for you?
Although recalling medication instructions is an important part of adherence, that’s not the only reason people might feel challenged when sticking to a medication. Here are some other possibilities that you might experience:
1. You hate the side effects
Every medication has risk of side effects, even over-the-counter options. The most common include nausea, fatigue, headache, muscle pains, and dizziness. While some may be mild, these and others may be bothersome enough to interfere with your daily life – interfering with your sleep, frequent urination, a foggy mind, tingling sensations, and others. When that happens, some people may stop taking their medications, or take them on a different schedule as directed, as a way to reduce side effects.
2. You feel like it’s not working
Maybe you’ve been on a medication for weeks and can’t tell if anything has changed about your condition. For example, you’re taking blood-pressure-lowering or cholesterol-lowering medication but you don’t feel any different. So, you might reason, what’s the point of staying on the medication or taking it every day if it doesn’t change the way you feel. It’ll probably still work, right?
3. Your symptoms aren’t improving or are worse instead of better
It might seem surprising, but for some people medication usage can cause symptoms to worsen, which can be very frustrating. For example, you might be taking meds to control migraine frequency, only to have them start up more often than before, or change the type of pain you feel. Maybe you’ve been prescribed an anti-inflammatory for joint pain, but now that joint feels more inflamed than ever—and joints that were once fine are now affected, too. Maybe the pain medication for your back isn’t providing any relief. Situations like this often cause people to stop their medications because they might feel like they’re doing actual damage to their bodies by sticking with their meds.
4. You feel like your condition has cleared up
If you’ve taken your medication as prescribed and your symptoms are gone, that’s likely a time when you feel like the meds did their job and you don’t need to finish the course of treatment as prescribed. For instance, some people might feel this way about antibiotics, even though doctors caution against stopping the meds when symptoms clear up and tell them to finish the full course.
5. You can’t afford to fill the prescriptions
Cost is a factor for many people, especially those who have high-deductible insurance, no insurance at all, or the medication that was prescribed isn’t covered. If you get sticker shock at the pharmacy, you have a higher risk of deciding not to take the medication. Or you might fill the prescription but “ration” the dosages to make the supply last longer, increasing the likelihood you’re not getting the benefit you need from the prescribed treatment.
6. You take multiple medications already
Research suggests that the greater the number of different medications prescribed, and the higher the dosage frequency, the more likely someone is to be non-adherent. This may be because it’s too confusing or too much of a hassle to organize and schedule all those meds, or because drug interactions are causing side effects.
7. You need to take your medication multiple times per day
Balancing your day without meds can already be a difficult enough task. Add a medication, or multiple of them, multiple times per day, and you may get the directions right a handful of times per week. Many studies have shown that the more times per day you need to take your meds, the less likely you are to take them.
In addition to the many reasons listed that may cause you not to take your medications as prescribed, there are likely many others. If any of these sound familiar, it’s important to know that there are almost always alternatives available that can deal with your specific issue. It is important to inform your doctor or pharmacist about what’s happening and how it’s impacting your life. Then you can work together on finding medication(s) that work best for you and your lifestyle, not just for your symptoms or condition. When that happens, medication adherence is usually much easier.
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