When you start to feel better after taking a prescription medicine, it’s understandable that you’d feel like you can stop. I mean, the medication did its job, right?
Not quite. Your medication is still doing its job—so it’s important to keep taking them. “If you stop taking your medications without checking with your doctor first, it can be dangerous,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, chief medical editor at HealthiNation and pediatrician at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
This is especially true for treating “silent” chronic conditions that don’t have obvious symptoms, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, or heart disease. You may feel great on the outside, but when you have conditions like these, your medication is working hard to keep it that way.
With other medications, such as antibiotics that are more short-term, you may see improvement right away. Still, these medicines only work if taken as prescribed, so don’t stop even if you feel better.
Here are some tips to better understand how your medication is working for you, and even if you’re feeling better:
TIP #1: Ask your doctor what you can expect.
With any prescription medicine, it’s wise to discuss your treatment plan with your doctor and ask questions. “Whether you’ve been taking your medications for a long time or just started them, it’s important to understand how it’s working and affecting you,” says Dr. Preeti.
At your next appointment, ask these questions:
How is this medicine working in my body?
What are the side effects?
How long do I have to take this medicine?
How long until I’ll see results?
What if I don’t see results?
What’s the long-term goal of this medication?
What happens if I miss a dose?
Do I have to take the medicine at the same time every day?
Write down any questions or concerns you have before your appointment so you don’t forget.
TIP #2: Understand the risk of stopping your medications.
Even if you feel great, it’s important to continue to take your medications as prescribed. Medications only work if you take them as directed. If you skip doses, elect not to take a prescribed medicine, or take too much, it can be dangerous. For example, if you stop your medications early, you may only partially treat an infection or you increase your risk of your condition worsening.
The benefits of sticking to your medication regimen are:
Better treatment of symptoms
Fewer side effects or drug interactions
A lower likelihood of unnecessary treatments or hospitalizations
Important: If you’re considering stopping your medications for good, be sure to tell your doctor first. Your doctor will let you know whether or not it’s safe to discontinue your medicine. Stopping suddenly can have its own side effects, and it’s important for you to make the decision fully informed about what the disease, untreated, can do to your body over the long-term. Your doctor may also give you alternatives to consider, like a dose adjustment.
Understanding your medications and taking them as directed is just as important to your health as getting enough exercise and eating a nutritious diet. Remember, you and your doctor are a team. Your health is a top priority, and you and your doctor have to work together to find the best treatment plan that works for you.