I remember the day my father told me he was finally off all his medications. I knew he still had some pretty serious health issues, so I was fairly certain his doctor hadn’t taken him off everything. “What happened?” I asked.
“I was feeling so bad from the drugs I just flushed them all down the toilet and I feel better already,” he said.
I know I did that once. I was offered a drug to solve a pesky but not serious problem, and about a week after taking the medication, I realized it was making me dizzy. I stopped. To be frank, since the drug was really optional, I never even told my doctor.
Health providers call the practice of stopping our medications being “non-adherent.” No one is too sure how many people end up dumping their medications or just stop taking them regularly. Some people never pick up their prescriptions, sometimes because of the cost, but also because they don’t like the idea of taking medicine, the drugs make them feel “old” or “sick,” or they simply don’t want to be bothered. Many people feel the benefits don’t outweigh the side effects.
Here are a few things you can do when you’re feeling sidelined by side effects:
- When your physician recommends that you take a drug, always ask whether there may be another way to treat your condition. For example, if your blood pressure is a little high, explore whether you might go on a weight loss or stress management program and check back in a few months to see if the medication is still needed.
- Ask about the side effects of the drug before you start taking a medication. If you don’t like what you hear, ask whether there may be other medications without those potential problems.
- If you begin feeling side effects you don’t like — such as anything from a dry mouth to dizziness, nausea, a dry cough, fatigue, etc. — tell your doctor. Ask whether a different drug or a lower dose might give you the benefit without the side effects.
- If you decide you need to stop taking a drug, tell your physician. He or she may have ideas about other approaches you can take to your problem. Ask whether your problem can be monitored while you’re off the drug to see if you still need the treatment.
- Make sure you’re taking the drug properly, such as at the right time of day, with meals, on an empty stomach, etc. Sometimes when and how you take a medication can decrease the side effects you feel.
Almost everything in health care is a balance between the benefits and the risks, weighing the potential positive impact on your health against any discomfort and downsides. Side effects are no different. Just be sure you’re making a decision that will actually contribute to your well being and not derail it.