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Is Your Medication Working for You?

Prescription drugs can enhance your life, but when not used correctly, they may have the opposite effect.

Medications are serious business and should never be taken lightly. Ask these questions each time you’re prescribed a medication:

Q: How should I take this drug?

A large percentage of people don't take their medications correctly, according to recent surveys. Some never bother to fill their prescriptions in the first place. Others stop taking a drug without first getting their doctors’ OK. Others don’t follow label instructions.

It’s one thing not to take a prescribed pill for pain or cold-symptom relief when you start to feel better. It’s another to take an unsafe dose of that medication, or to fail to take a drug that could help prevent a heart attack, stroke, or diabetes-related blindness or amputation.

If you know you can’t afford the drug your doctor has prescribed, speak up about it. A more affordable drug may exist. Or, if you doubt the medicine can really do that much good for you, let your doctor or pharmacist know. This is your chance to learn all the facts and discuss alternatives.

Q: How will I know the drug is working?

Often, a routine test can clearly show if the drug you’re taking is doing its job. For example, a blood sugar test can help show if a diabetes medication is working. A cholesterol test can tell you about your cholesterol medication. An eye exam can show if a glaucoma drug is working.

With pain medications, antihistamines, and muscle relaxants, only the person who takes them can know for sure.

If your symptoms aren’t improving, be sure to let your doctor or pharmacist know so the treatment can be adjusted, if necessary.

Q: If I feel better, should I stop taking the medication?

Know the answer to this questions for any medication you are prescribed.

For some drugs, stopping the dose is no problem. If allergy symptoms get better, you may do just fine without the antihistamines.

These drugs can cause serious problems when you stop taking them too soon:

  • Antibiotics. Bacteria can grow resistant to the medication if you don’t take all doses as prescribed, no matter how good you start to feel. As a result, your infection may return with a vengeance. Worse, the medication may no longer work on that type of infection.

  • Cholesterol, diabetes, or blood pressure medications. Often, people taking these medications feel just fine even when they quit taking the drugs. However, over time this can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, diabetes, amputations, blindness, or kidney failure.

In some cases, going off a drug abruptly can cause serious short-term problems, as well.

For example, blood pressure can actually shoot higher than it was before treatment if you stop taking your blood pressure medication abruptly. When in doubt, check with your doctor or pharmacist before stopping a medication.

Q: If I feel worse than before, should I keep taking it?

Follow label instructions regarding side effects. Sometimes it’s important to immediately stop taking a drug and contact a health care provider. In any case, get your doctor’s or pharmacist’s advice first.

Q: Is this drug really the right one for me?

If you’ve been taking a particular drug for years to treat a chronic condition, it could be time for you to review your prescription with your health care provider. There may be a newer drug that’s more effective, has fewer side effects, or can substitute for multiple drugs.

So, to get the most out of your medications, take them seriously, ask questions, and take your medications as prescribed.