Medication Habits to Manage Chronic Conditions

Image for arixtra Chronic diseases usually need to be managed over a long period of time. Medicine is a common tool to help manage symptoms but they need to be taken properly. Problems may include:

  • Not filling the prescription
  • Not getting refills
  • Taking a different dose than prescribed
  • Not taking the medication as often as you should

What Are the Consequences?

Some medicine has immediate and clear affects. If you stop taking it, symptoms will come back or you fall very ill. Other medicine may not have immediate affects but it can lower your risk of serious illness at a later time. Talk to your care team to better understand the role of your medicine. Not following your medication plan can lead to a worsening of your condition and:

  • Need for advanced care like hospitalization
  • Quicker progression of disease
  • Increased risk of complications such as heart and kidney disease or stroke
  • Lower quality of life
  • Increased cost of care due to emergency needs and care for avoidable complications

What Leads to Medication Problems? What Can You Do?

I do not understand how to take the medicine.

Make an appointment to talk to your doctor. Write down any questions you have. Make sure you are clear about:

  • The dose—How much medicine do you need to take at one time?
  • The daily schedule—How many times during the day do you need to take the medicine?
  • The duration—How long do you need to continue taking it?
  • Steps to take if you miss a dose—Do you need to take the medicine as soon as possible or should you wait until the next day?
  • Special instructions—For example, should you take the medicine with food?

Your pharmacist can also answer questions about your medicine. Don't be shy when it comes to asking questions. They can tell you about your medicine, possible problems with other drugs, and side effects. Don't be afraid to write the instructions down.

I am afraid of the side effects.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist about side effects. Know which ones are common. They may seem less bothersome is you know what to expect. Take some time to read the paperwork that comes with your medicine. The most common side effects are often listed first. Keep in mind that your body will often adjust to medicine in a short amount of time.

Let your care team know if a side effect is too much to manage. It may make you feel ill or make it hard for you to get through your day. Another medication may be more useful to you. There may also be steps to help ease the side effects.

Drugs can cause problems when combined. They may create or worsen side effects. Let your doctors know about any medicine you are taking. This includes any supplements or herbs.

The medicine is too expensive.

Options to help ease the sot of medicine include:

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can use a less expensive for of the medicine. It may be called generic drug. Many states require pharmacists to give the less expensive option unless told otherwise.
  • Contact your insurance company to find out which drugs are covered under your plan. Talk to your doctor about the options.
  • Ask your care team, a pharmacist or search online about patient assistance programs. You may qualify to get your medicine at a lower cost.

I feel fine. Why do I need to keep taking the medication?

Keep in mind that you may feel well because your medicine is working.

Some conditions, such as high blood pressure, do not have symptoms that you can feel. That does not mean your health is fine. In other cases, such as asthma, the symptoms go away because of the medicine. If you were to stop taking it, your symptoms would return.

Talk to your care team to better understand your treatment. It may help you feel more motivated to continue treatment.

It is hard to remember to take my medication!

There are a number of strategies to try:

  • There are several apps for your smartphone. Some will even remind you when it is time to refill your prescription.
  • Talking alarm clocks, watches, and pill boxes with timers may help if you do not use smartphones.
  • Have a set routine. For example, take a pill before you go to bed or when you make coffee in the morning.
  • Use a pill organizer. This is a plastic container that has a section for each day of the week. A few minutes on a Sunday will have you set for the week.
  • Check with your pharmacy. Ask if they have a program that will remind you for refills. They can also order ahead of time so you do not have to wait in line.
  • Create a chart of all your medicine, if you take more than 1 medicine. It will help to make sure something does not get left out. Use this list when you go to doctor appointments or the pharmacy for a new prescription.

Keep in touch with your care team. Review your treatment plan at least once per year. New medications may help to reduce the number of pills that you need. If you are facing challenges, get help from your doctor and pharmacist. There may be solutions you were not aware of. The steps that you take now can have a huge impact on the rest of your life.


National Council on Patient Information and Education
Take Control of Your Health


Canadian Pharmacists Association


Bosworth H. Medication adherence: making the case for increased awareness. Script Your Future website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed June 4, 2019.
National Council on Patient Information and Education. Enhancing prescription medicine adherence: a national action plan. Educate Before You Medicate website. Available at:
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Accessed June 4, 2019.
Overcoming Barriers to Medication Adherence for Chronic Diseases. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Last updated: February 28, 2018. Accessed June 4, 2019.
Last reviewed July 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 6/4/2019

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