Phil Day By Superintendent Pharmacist Published:

Why do patients intentionally choose to stop taking their prescribed medication as agreed? It may sound surprising but evidence suggests that between a third and a half of all the medicines prescribed for long-term conditions are not taken as recommended. The consequences of not taking medication can be far reaching; felt by patients, their families and the NHS.

We’ll be looking at what can go wrong when patients self-diagnose, why it’s crucial you learn about side effects and the steps you should take if you’ve got concerns.  

“But I’m feeling better!”

A common reason patients stop taking their medicines as prescribed is because they start to feel better, or don’t feel any immediate benefit from taking them.

This is often the case when taking medication to manage a long term condition (eg. blood pressure or high cholesterol medication) or to lower the risk of a future event (eg. aspirin to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes). Because they’re not experiencing symptoms, the patient may take it upon themselves to stop taking their medication and get on with their busy lives.  

This is also seen with antibiotics, which are prescribed to treat or prevent some types of bacterial infection. Once they begin to fight the infection, a patient will often begin to feel better and reach the assumption that they no longer need to take them before completing the prescribed course.

However, by choosing to stop taking the medicine in the agreed way, there’s also a chance that an infection could return, or a long term condition could silently worsen. This decision should always be taken in consultation with a GP or pharmacist.

Managing side effects

Experiencing unpleasant side effects or just being wary of them, is another reason why a patient may choose to stop taking their medication. A side effect is an unwanted and usually undesirable symptom of a medical treatment. Some medicines can also cause side effects if they are stopped suddenly.

You should contact your GP or pharmacist in the event you experience an unwanted side effect before you decide not to take the medicine. They can ask you questions, offer advice and if needs be recommend an alternative treatment. Quite often, side effects are mild and pass quickly, and reassurance may be all that is needed. 

Mind the gap

If you’re taking repeat medication for a long term condition, our team of qualified pharmacists can work with your GP to help you.

Pharmacy2U works with the NHS to help patients manage their repeat prescriptions. You can order from wherever you want, at a time which suits you and we’ll deliver it right to your home or work. We even send you a handy reminder when it’s time to order a top-up of your medication. And if you have any questions regarding your medication, our Pharmacy Team will be on-hand to help. 

How good are you at taking your medicine as prescribed by your GP? Take this short survey to let us know.

Complete survey