Taking Your Medicine: A Smart Choice for Staying Healthy

Medicines can be an important part of treatment for many things. They can cure serious infections and treat long-term (chronic) conditions. They can help relieve pain and lift depression. They can help prevent some of the leading causes of death and disability.

Today’s medicines can help control many common chronic diseases. They can reduce the problems that go with them. Medicines can also help keep people out of the hospital.

But many people take their medicines wrong or not at all. Research has found that more than 1 in 4 people in the U.S. don't take their medicines as prescribed.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Often, people don't understand how to take their medicine correctly. Or they lose track of their medicine during the day. Some stop taking medicine because they feel it's no longer needed. Others can’t afford their medicine, especially if it isn't covered by their insurance. People also stop taking medicine because of side effects.

Risks of skipping medicine

Taking medicines on time and correctly is important. When you don’t take medicines as prescribed, they may not work as well. You may have a higher risk for side effects.

You may not feel the problems caused by not taking your medicine. People who don’t take their blood pressure or cholesterol medicines may feel OK. But their blood pressure or cholesterol may be going up. That can raise their risk for heart attack and stroke.

Not taking all of an antibiotic medicine may cause an infection to come back. Not taking an antidepressant can cause a mental health decline. Not taking a blood thinner on time raises the risk of stroke. Each medicine has an important purpose.

Getting the most out of your medicines

There’s a lot you can do to help your medicines work well for you. Experts suggest that you:

  • Make a list of all your medicines. Include all medicines. But also include any vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies that you use. Share this list with all your healthcare providers and your pharmacist. Keep it up-to-date. This makes it easier for them to spot and prevent unsafe medicine interactions. If you get all your medicines from the same drugstore, the pharmacist can check for interactions more easily.

  • Learn what each medicine does. Ask for brochures about your medicine from your healthcare provider’s office. Or ask your provider to advise websites that may help you learn about each medicine.

  • Use a pill organizer. Most drugstores sell several kinds. They are divided into the days of the week. Some also have sections for times of day. Some have alarms to remind you to take your pills. Keep it in plain sight but away from children.

  • Plug it into your daily schedule. Take your medicine at the same time you make your morning coffee or brush your teeth. Or schedule medicine for dinnertime or when you go to bed.

  • Set reminders. Put it into your digital calendar so it reminds you. Set your watch or cell phone alarm to go off when you need to take a dose. Even a note on the refrigerator may help you keep on schedule.

  • Ask about a simpler plan. If you can’t keep track of your medicines and when to take them, ask your healthcare provider for help. With some medicines, you may be able to switch to a dose that doesn’t need to be taken as often. Some can have 2 medicines in each pill, which may be easier to keep track of.

  • Don’t stop medicine on your own. Don’t just stop taking a medicine or change your dose to save money or make your schedule simpler. Talk with your healthcare provider first. Do this even if symptoms go away, or you don't think the medicine is working. Suddenly stopping some medicines can be dangerous.

  • Dispose of medicines you no longer take. Keeping old medicines around can confuse you about what you are supposed to take. Ask your pharmacist how to safely get rid of old medicines. Some drugstores have drop-off boxes where you can dispose of the medicines safely. Others have packets of chemicals that can make tablets unusable and safer to discard.

Making medicine more affordable

Medicines can take a big bite out of your budget. This can be true even if your health plan covers your medicines. But taking less medicine or skipping doses is not a safe way to save money. Try these tips instead:

  • Ask your healthcare provider if it’s OK to use a generic instead of a brand-name medicine. It will have the same active ingredients, but may cost less.

  • Ask if you can buy a larger dose and split it to save money. For example, it may be cheaper to buy 200 mg tablets and break them in half if you only need 100 mg. But ask your pharmacist because certain medicines aren't safe to split apart.

  • Check with your health plan to see if you can order your medicines through them. You may be able to get them delivered to your home at a lower price.

  • Ask your pharmacy if they take medicine discount cards.

  • Talk with your provider’s office to see if they can sign you up for free or low-cost medicine from the maker. Some drug companies have programs to help pay for their medicines.

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rajadurai Samnishanth MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2023
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