On Your Health

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The Importance of Taking Prescriptions as Instructed

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates not taking prescription medications as instructed causes 30 to 50 percent of chronic disease treatment failures and 125,000 deaths each year.

When you’re taking prescription medications, it’s important to take them as your physician instructs. Many people make the mistake of thinking they can stop taking a prescription medication on their own. However, most medications must be taken for a certain period of time and in the correct dosage in order to reap their full benefits and to prevent further health complications. 

Why you should take medications as directed

Medication adherence means taking your prescriptions in the right dosage, at the right time, in the right way and in the correct frequency. This is important for controlling ongoing chronic conditions, successfully treating temporary illnesses and maintaining your overall health and well-being.

When your physician prescribes a medication, she will most likely designate how often you should take the medication and for how long. This recommended dosage and duration of treatment is based on the amount of medication scientists have determined your body needs to adequately combat a specific disease or illness. This is why, depending on your condition, you may need to take a prescribed medication once a day or multiple times a day for one week, a few months or maybe years.

Consult a doctor before stopping a medication

People may believe they can stop taking a prescription for a variety of reasons. They may start to feel better, not understand the directions, experience uncomfortable side effects, not believe the medication is working, can’t afford to fill their prescriptions or simply no longer wish to take the medication.

However, you should always have a discussion with your physician before stopping a medication. Medications are prescribed with specific instructions for a reason, and stopping some medications suddenly can have serious consequences.

It’s a good idea to review with your physician all medications you’re currently taking on a regular basis. This includes prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements. Your physician can help determine whether your dosages need to be adjusted, if you need to start taking different medications or if you can quit taking a medication. If your doctor determines you can stop taking a specific medication, he should let you know if you can quit right away or if you need to gradually reduce your dosage to help your body adjust.

Adverse and allergic drug reactions 

If you experience a severe adverse or allergic reaction to a medication, it’s best to stop taking the medication and consult your doctor as soon as possible. Side effects, intolerances and negative drug interactions are considered adverse reactions and are usually expected and considered normal to some degree for most prescription medications. However, severe symptoms that threaten your health are not normal and should be discussed with a doctor right away.

Unlike adverse reactions, drug allergies are more serious and only occur when your immune system mistakenly attacks the medication as if it were a foreign bacteria or virus. Having an allergic reaction to a medication can have serious, even life-threatening consequences. Symptoms may include trouble breathing, swelling, feeling light-headed, throat tightness, coughing, nausea or vomiting, cramps, seizures and low blood pressure.

If you experience negative symptoms after taking a medication, your doctor will be able to analyze your symptoms and let you know if you’re experiencing an adverse reaction or if you’re allergic to the medication. If necessary, your doctor will have you stop taking the medication causing the issues and recommend other methods of treatment.

What happens if you skip a dose? 

If you forget to take a dose of a medication you take regularly, don’t panic. Some medications come with directions on what to do if you miss a regular dose, but if yours doesn’t, there are a few things you can do.

  1. DO NOT double up on your medication – taking too much at one time may be dangerous.
  2. Take the medication as soon as you remember.
  3. If it is almost time for your next dose by the time you remember, skip the missed dose and return to your regular medication schedule.
  4. If you’re not sure what to do, call your pharmacist or physician for advice.
  5. Develop a plan for remembering to take your medications on time to avoid missing further doses.
Medication tips infographic

Medications that are unsafe to stop abruptly 

Some medications can be harmful when you stop taking them suddenly. The following nine medications may make you sick or lead to dangerous problems if you stop taking them abruptly without first consulting your physician.

Antidepressants 

Antidepressant medications like Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft can cause problems like agitation, anxiety, confusion, insomnia, nausea and worsened or severe depression if you stop taking your medication abruptly.

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are frequently used to treat anxiety, insomnia and panic attacks. If stopped suddenly, medication like Xanax, Ativan and Halcion can cause agitation, anxiety, rapid heart rate, hallucinations, insomnia, seizures, sweating, tremors and nausea.

Statins

Statins used to lower cholesterol, like Litpor, Mevacor and Zocor, can cause your cholesterol to spike or cause a heart attack if not stopped correctly.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids used to treat conditions like asthma, arthritis and certain skin problems can cause fatigue, low blood pressure, muscle aches and pains, nausea and weight loss if stopped abruptly.

Hormone therapies

Hormone therapy drugs containing estrogen (Premarin) or estrogen with progestin (Prefest or Prempro) can cause menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, flushes and sweating when not stopped correctly.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories

Not stopping a daily aspirin regimen correctly can cause a heart attack. Other NSAIDs, like celecoxib and ibuprofen, can cause headaches if stopped abruptly.

Sleep aids

If using sleep aids like Lunesta, Sonata and Ambien long-term, stopping them suddenly can cause anxiety, muscle cramps, nausea and seizures.

Opioids

You should always stop taking opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and propoxyphene with the help of your physician. Stopping opioids suddenly can cause severe withdrawal symptoms such as agitation, chills, cramps, diarrhea, hostility, insomnia, muscle pain and vomiting. If you’ve been prescribed an opioid to relieve pain, your doctor should help you slowly taper your dosage and transition to a less powerful painkiller once your pain eases. Opioids are highly addictive, so they should only be prescribed when truly necessary to relieve pain.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics should always be taken for the full duration specified on your prescription. When not used as directed, antibiotics can cause antibiotic resistance — when microbes (bacteria) become able to resist the effects of drugs. Antibiotic resistance is dangerous because it can make illnesses and infections that were once easily treatable with antibiotics become untreatable.

According to a report released by the CDC in 2013, an estimated 2,000,000 illnesses and 23,000 deaths across the country are caused by antibiotic resistance annually, making it one of the most urgent threats to public health.

Every time you take an antibiotic, bacteria are attacked and killed. However, sometimes resistant bacteria are left to grow and multiply. The frequent and repeated use of antibiotics and not taking the antibiotics you have been prescribed can lead to increased drug-resistant bacteria in your system.

When prescribed antibiotics, always follow your physician’s and pharmacist’s instructions carefully, and don’t stop taking the medication too early even if you start to feel better. If your symptoms start to subside, your body still needs a specific amount of the antibiotic for a certain duration of time to fully eliminate the dangerous bacteria.

INTEGRIS offers eight full-service, in-hospital pharmacies across the Oklahoma City, Edmond, Yukon and Enid areas, meaning there’s always a location near you. Download the INTEGRIS Rx app today (available for both iPhones and Android devices) to find a location near you and track your currently prescribed medications.

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