It’s a tough pill to swallow – apparently.
Seventy-five percent of North Americans don’t take their much-needed meds as directed or skip them entirely. And almost 15 percent of folks 40-plus with chronic medical conditions get a failing grade for mismanagement of important medication!
This matters – big time. One study of people on high blood pressure medication found skipping doses boosts the risk for deadly strokes two- to five-fold. But only about half of you take those meds as prescribed. Another example: If you’ve had a heart attack or other cardio event and you have recently stopped taking clot-blocking, low-dose aspirin – many of you have – you raise your odds for a nonfatal heart attack 60 percent.
And it’s estimated that up to half of folks on statins don’t take them regularly or at all, denying themselves protection from heart attack and – new info – some cancers.
But heart-related meds aren’t the only ones that go untaken. Only 30 percent of teenagers stick with their asthma-control regimen, with potentially lethal consequences. And most startling, less than 2 percent of adults with diabetes do regular blood-glucose monitoring, take their medications as prescribed and follow recommended dietary guidelines. That leads to a roster of complications, including cardiovascular disease, neuropathy (nerve pain or numbness), blindness, amputation and kidney disease, not to mention impotence and brain dysfunction.
Solution No. 1: Slash the cost. You may not take your meds because they are too expensive, but boycotting them can seriously increase your long-term health expenses. Talk to your doc about taking generics – the health-giving benefits are generally the same as brand-name drugs. Only a few are known to not work for some people, but the price tag is 30 percent to 80 percent lower. Use the website Pharmahelper.com to find trustworthy online drugstores; they can be cheaper. But stay away from online cut-rate, out-of-North-America pill pushers.
If you have health insurance with drug coverage, chances are the company offers mail-order pharmacy services that are cheaper than if you go to the corner chain store for your monthly prescription. Also, ask your doc if you’re taking the most affordable drug for your condition. It’s a conversation just one in 20 people have! And take advantage of coupons, rebates and special assistance programs by checking with NeedyMeds at needymeds.org and Partnership for Prescription Assistance at pparx.org.
Solution No. 2: Set up a reminder system. Using a pillbox with compartments for each daily dose can also increase your success 58 percent. Or invest in electronic caps for your pill bottles. They light up, play a tune or send a phone call, text or email alert when it’s time for your next dose.
Solution No. 3: Talk about side effects. Ask your doc about the range of potential side effects with different drugs – you may be able to switch from one drug to another until you discover the one with the least disruptive side effects.
Solution No. 4: Be inspired. You can’t feel the benefits of many important medications – like those for thinning bones and high cholesterol. So track your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers to get proof the meds are working. You’ll be more motivated to do the right thing.
Solution No. 5: Simplify. Still feel like your medicine schedule is too complicated? Talk with your doctor and pharmacist about streamlining it so that you can take medications less often during the day. (Don’t do this on your own!) Pharmacists are a very knowledgeable and underutilized resource.
Solution No. 6: Write a do-it-yourself Rx. A stellar diet, regular exercise and weight loss might let you reduce your dose or go off your meds. Start loading your plate with produce, whole grains and lean proteins. Replace fatty meats and whole dairy with good fats, such as olive and canola oil and nuts. Take a 30-minute walk every day. Get plenty of sleep, and slash stress. After a month or two, see your doc for a follow-up. We bet your test results will be worth celebrating.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of the “The Dr. Oz Show” and Dr. Mike Roizen is chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.