Medication Non-Adherence and Chronic Conditions
by Rebecca J. Stahl, MA
Chronic diseases, like heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes are far more common today than infectious diseases. Chronic diseases usually need to be managed over a long period of time. In many cases, chronic diseases are incurable. Long-term prescription medications to reduce or control symptoms are usually the course of treatment.
Medication non-adherence is when you do not take medication as prescribed. Some examples of this include:
What Are the Consequences? TOP
Unfortunately, statistics show that a low percentage of Americans with chronic conditions take their medications as prescribed.
This can result in serious consequences. For example, your condition could worsen, leading to more intense treatment, more medications, and even hospitalization. Medication non-adherence can also be a financial burden since it may cause you tomiss work, have more doctor appointments and more costly prescriptions. In extreme cases, not taking your medication can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or even death.
What Are the Reasons for Non-Adherence? What Can You Do? TOP
There are many reasons why people do not take their medications. Here are some common reasons and ways to counter these concerns.
I do not understand how to take the medication.
Make an appointment to talk to your doctor. Write down any questions you have. Make sure you are clear about:
Your pharmacist is another resource. Don't be shy when it comes to asking questions about your medication, possible drug interactions, and side effects. Don't be afraid to write the instructions down.
I am afraid of the side effects.
Remember to tell all your doctors about all the medications you are taking, especially if you see more than one doctor. It is also important for them to know if you are taking any supplements or herbal medications.Your doctor can explain which side effects are common and what you should do if you have any problems. In some cases a doctor can consider another medication with different side effects that may be more acceptable.
When you get home from the pharmacy, take some time to read the paperwork that comes with the prescription. The most common side effects are generally listed first. Keep in mind that some of the side effects listed occurred in a very small number of people, and that no one has all the side effects. In most cases, your body will adjust to them in a short amount of time and they won't even be noticeable. Knowing the potential side effects and how to handle them can help ease your fears.
The medication is too expensive. TOP
Before you decide not to take the medication because it is too costly, explore your options:
I feel fine. Why do I need to keep taking the medication? TOP
Some conditions, such as high blood pressure, do not have symptoms that you notice, but that does not mean your health is fine. In other cases, the symptoms go away because of the medication and if you were to stop taking it, your symptoms would return.
If you are not sure how the medication works in your body or why you are taking it, talk to your doctor. It is important to understand the purpose of the medication and what could happen if the condition goes untreated.
Untreated chronic diseases can often lead to serious health complications. Keep in mind that you may feel well because your medications are working.
It is hard to remember to take my medication! TOP
There are a number of strategies to try:
If you are facing challenges when it comes to taking your medication, get help from your doctor and pharmacist. The steps that you take now to care for your chronic condition can have a huge impact on the rest of your life.
Educate Before You Medicate
Take Control of Your Health
Canadian Pharmacists Association
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Take control of your medicines. Take Control of Your Health website. Available at: http://www.tcyh.org/medications/medications.shtml. Accessed October 18, 2013.
Last reviewed October 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 10/18/2013