Have you ever thought about what your medicines are doing for you?
Medicines do a lot of different things. There are drugs to treat high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and high blood sugar. There are drugs that replace physiological substances that we’re short on, like levothyroxine for your thyroid, or testosterone for men, or estrogen and progesterone for women. Some drugs help with breathing: the familiar albuterol inhaler, as well as other medications for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. You might be taking a medicine for pain or inflammation. Perhaps you are taking a medication to prevent something from happening – vitamin D along with calcium to prevent osteoporosis, or vitamin C to prevent the common cold.
Medicines can do many different things, but basically there are only two basic goals for your medicines. If they are good medicines for you, they will help you feel better, or they will help you live longer. If you’re really lucky, your medicines will be doing both.
It’s important and useful to recognize what your medicines are doing for you.
If an individual drug is helping you live longer, we can tolerate if it does not make you feel good. Cancer therapy, for example, often makes patients feel pretty bad, but you keep going because it can control the cancer and help you live longer and feel better once the treatment regimen is over. Sometimes medicines for high blood pressure, high cholesterol or other long-term treatments cause unwanted side effects, but it’s often worth putting up with some minor side effects to avoid more serious problems like strokes and heart attacks.
If an individual drug is helping you live longer, you want to keep taking it even if it is inconvenient. These are your medicines that you take whether you want to or not.
If you’re taking a medicine to feel better, then it should actually make you feel better. Many drugs that make you feel better, such as cold or pain remedies, act quickly and are prescribed to be taken as needed. Other medicines take a while to work – weeks to months for antidepressants – and patients benefit from taking them regularly to see if they will be effective.
In either case, if the medicines are not helping you feel better, they will still have their unwanted side effects. They won’t be working, but they also may be preventing you from trying another drug that would work. If it’s a prescription medication, you can usually help your prescriber by letting them know what has worked well in the past – that’s often a good indicator of what will work in the future.
Do NOT stop any medicines without the approval of your health care providers. Pharmacists are trained to review and optimize patient medications. When your medications are reviewed, your pharmacist can determine which adjustments might be considered and will work with your prescribers to make changes. Often this involved choosing the medications which will help you feel better and which will help you live longer. Medication reviews are most useful for patients with serious health problems taking many medications.
I usually ask patients, “are these good medicines for you?” If your medicines are not helping you feel better and live longer, you should be working with your pharmacist and prescriber to consider how to improve your drug therapy.