Taking Your Medicine: A Smart Choice for Staying Healthy

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

Today’s medicines can help control many common chronic diseases and lower the complications that go along with them. Medicines can play an important role in helping keep people out of the hospital.

Why do so many people take their medicines incorrectly or not at all? According to many researchers, more than 1 in 4 Americans don't take their medicines as prescribed.

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

Are there risks?

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

The effects of not taking some medicines aren’t always clear. People who don’t take their blood pressure or cholesterol medicines may feel well, but their blood pressure or cholesterol numbers may be rising. That can increase their risk for heart attack or stroke.

Tips you can try

There’s a lot you can do to help your medicines work safely and effectively. Experts suggest that you:

  • Gather information. Ask for brochures and pamphlets about your condition and medicine from your healthcare provider’s office. Ask your provider to advise reliable websites that may help. 

  • Make a list of your medicines.  Include all medicines, 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—dangerous medicine interactions. Never share your medicines with others. Getting all your medicines from the same pharmacy allows the pharmacists to check for medicine interactions more easily.

  • Don't rely on your memory. Buy a special pill case that’s divided into the days of the week. Then keep it somewhere in plain sight, but safe from children. Newer boxes have built-in alarms and a recorded voice to remind you. Another idea is to take your medicine at the same time every day, perhaps when you brush your teeth or feed the dog. 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 remember.

  • Talk with your healthcare provider.  Before you stop taking a medicine or start taking fewer doses to save money or simplify your schedule, call your healthcare provider. Do this even if symptoms disappear or you don't think the medicine is working. Suddenly stopping some medicines can be dangerous.

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

  • Explore more affordable choices. Medicines can take a big bite out of your budget, even if your health benefits include coverage. But taking less medicine or skipping doses isn’t a safe way to save money. Ask your healthcare provider about using a generic instead of a brand-name medicine. It will have the same active ingredients as its brand-name version, but may cost less. Are you eligible to order your medicines at a discount? Check with your health plan. Some pharmacies and drug companies offer discount cards or very low-cost generic medicines, too. Sometimes you may be able to buy a larger dose and split it to save money. For instance, 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.

  • Throw away any medicines you are no longer taking.  Keeping medicines around after they are no longer prescribed or have been changed by your healthcare provider can lead to confusion. Ask your pharmacist how to safely get rid of medicines you don’t need. Some pharmacies have installed 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.

Taking your medicine as directed is just one part of your overall plan for staying healthy.

Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Hurd MD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2021
© 2000-2023 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.