Have you ever taken home a new prescription and been happy to find that it works right away? After a few weeks, it might feel like you don’t need it anymore. Or maybe you start taking it only to find that it makes you feel worse. As you get older—and medications and expenses accumulate—it isn’t just new prescriptions you might be tempted to cut out. Long-term medications can feel like they just aren’t working like they used to—and they might not be. But abruptly stopping your medication without first consulting your healthcare professional can lead to other problems.
If you stop your medication too soon, your health may pay a steep price. In addition to unwanted side effects, you risk allowing your disease to progress, possibly leading to complications that can affect your everyday life. For example, if you’re taking statins, you might think that because your cholesterol levels have lowered, it’s safe to go off the medication. But if you do, your cholesterol levels are likely to rise, putting you back at risk for a heart attack or stroke.
If you’re on antidepressants, you might want to stop taking the pills when you start to feel better, but that’s a bad idea. If you do need to stop your medication, your healthcare provider can slowly wean you off it to help avoid withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, nausea and fatigue.
Having a conversation with your healthcare provider can help him or her determine if you need to stop taking a medication if it’s not working well. As you age, changes in your body can alter the performance of certain medicines. For example, the liver and kidneys may work more slowly, affecting how a drug breaks down and is removed from your body. Or, if you’re taking statins, instead of taking you off the drug right away, your healthcare professional might suggest you try cutting back on fats or that you exercise more so that, in time, you won’t need the medication.