Whether you’re taking a prescription medication for a short-term illness or a long-term medical condition, it’s important to take your medication as prescribed. Not following your doctor’s orders can contribute to worsening symptoms and treatment failure.
To ensure that you are getting the most effective treatment, it helps to understand medication mistakes and, more importantly, how to avoid them.
Skipping doses to stretch your supply
Depending on the medication, skipping doses can be dangerous. For example, skipping beta blockers can cause a spike in your blood pressure and heart rate, putting you at an increased risk of heart attack.
Solution: If you’re having trouble paying for your prescriptions, let your pharmacist know. They can talk to your doctor to see if you can switch from a brand-name drug to a generic drug, which often costs significantly less, or if a different, less costly medicine can be prescribed.
Splitting pills that aren’t meant to be split
Not all pills can be cleanly divided in half. Those that can usually have a score line. Splitting tablets without a score line can result in not getting an adequate dosage. If a tablet is FDA-approved to be split, that information should be on the prescription labeling.
Solution: If you’ve been instructed to split your pills, but they don’t have a score line, be sure to let your pharmacist know. Often, they can get a supply from another manufacturer that offers pills that can be divided. Even for pills with a score line, use a pill splitter designed for this purpose. It is usually available at the pharmacy counter.
Not finishing your medication because you feel better
Research shows that the highest rate of non-adherence to medications occurs when patients are symptom free.
Solution: Finish the entire dose of antibiotics prescribed. Otherwise, even if you feel better, bacteria can linger, and your symptoms can come back or even worsen.
Researchers believe that stopping taking antibiotics early may be to blame for some germs developing antibiotic resistance. For other drugs, ask your doctor how long you need to continue taking your medication, and make sure that you understand your long-term treatment plan.
Doubling up on doses
If you forget a dose, don’t panic, and don’t double up, which can lead to adverse side effects. For example, doubling your prescribed dose of a beta blocker can cause your blood pressure to drop too low.
Solution: The Cleveland Clinic recommends taking the missed dose as soon as you remember. However, if it’s almost time for your next dose, then skip the missed dose, and just take your next dose at the regularly scheduled time.
Taking someone else’s medication
A medication is prescribed for your specific condition, age and size. It’s never safe to take someone else’s medication.
Solution: If you’re sick and think you need a medication, see your doctor.
Forgetting to take medication
Forgetting a dose every now and then is human. Medication adherence is defined as taking at least 80 percent of your prescribed doses. If forgetting becomes a habit, that’s a problem and puts your treatment and health at risk.
Solution: Many pharmacies offer convenience packaging that bundles together all your medications, labeled with the dates and times of day they should be taken. One barrier to taking medication as prescribed is having a complex treatment plan — for example, you might need to take several medications several times a day or at unusual times. Ask your pharmacist if they offer convenience packaging that bundles together all your medications, labeled with the dates and times of day they should be taken. The My GNP mobile app, available for free on iOS and Android devices, allows you to set up reminders for your medication.
Stopping or not taking medication because of side effects
You might read a list of possible side effects and decide not to take a medication. The problem is that a medication only works if you take it. If you experience side effects or simply don’t feel like taking your medication anymore, don’t stop taking it without talking to your doctor first. You need to slowly wean yourself off certain medications, such as antidepressants, or you might experience serious withdrawal symptoms.
Solution: Talk to your pharmacist before taking any new medication. If you have concerns about current or future side effects, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. They can go over common side effects, as well as more serious side effects that warrant a call to your doctor. They can also give you tips to reduce common side effects, and if side effects linger, your doctor can often prescribe a different medication.