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Rx for trouble
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One in three American adults don’t follow their doctors’ orders when it comes to taking prescription drugs, according to a 2005 Harris Interactive Survey. Are you one of those noncompliant patients? If so, you could be putting your health—and life—in more danger than you think. Abruptly stopping beta-blockers, for example, can trigger chest pain or even a heart attack. And discontinuing statins can cause a rebound effect that triples your heart attack risk.

Many people have legitimate reasons for wanting to stop taking their medicine. But the decision to stop taking a drug or skip doses is one that you must make with your healthcare provider. Below are some obstacles that may be preventing you from complying with your treatment and ways your healthcare provider can help you overcome them.

  • I feel fine. Stopping your medicine too soon can cause your symptoms to return or your condition to become worse and harder to treat. Certain medications, especially those for asthma, migraines, depression, epilepsy and some heart conditions, must be continued even when you’re feeling well—that means they’re working. Ask your healthcare provider whether he or she can prescribe a lower dose as an alternative to stopping your meds altogether.
  • I can’t tolerate my prescription’s side effects. Your medication may cause drowsiness or jitters or impair your ability to drive or work. It can also cause side effects like constipation or diarrhea. Your provider may be able to adjust your dosage or prescribe a different medicine that’s just as effective but without the side effects. He or she may also recommend taking your prescription at a different time of day.
  • I take too many pills and can’t remember when to take them—or whether I’ve already taken them. Ask your provider to help you come up with a schedule that fits your lifestyle. A timer, medical calendar, check-off record or pill-organizing container can help, too, and all are available in pharmacies.
  • My prescriptions are too expensive. Your provider may be able to substitute a generic or less expensive version. He or she may also suggest pill splitting. Some, but not all, pills can be purchased at double the dosage you need and cut in half to last twice as long. Your provider or pharmacist may also recommend patient-assistance programs to help pay for your drugs, or visit the Web site www.needymeds.com, which can link you to some programs. Don’t try to save money by keeping pills past their expiration dates: Their ingredients degrade over time, and they’ll likely do you more harm than good.
  • My pills are too difficult to swallow. Smaller pills or liquid forms of your medications may be available, or you may be able to cut them in half with a pill splitter.
  • My medicine’s not helping me. Just because you don’t feel a difference doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Some medicines take a long time before you feel an improvement. Your provider has ways to monitor your medicine’s effectiveness, such as ordering blood tests, X-rays or other lab tests.