Looking to change your medication routine? Talk to your doctor first

A couple placing their medication in a daily pill box organizer

Side effects can keep us from taking a medication. We don’t want to gain weight. We don’t want to feel drowsy or have dry mouth, or feel anxious or nauseated.

That lengthy list of possible side effects that comes with a prescription medication might deter some from ever opening the bottle.

Up to 30% of medications doctors prescribe never get filled. Half the time, medications aren’t taken as prescribed — people might take more or less than what they’re prescribed, or skip dosages.

While it’s common at some point to want a different dosage or an entirely different medication, it’s important to talk to your doctor before making any changes. That’s the case even if new information has been released about your medication regimen, such as the recent change in recommendations for daily aspirin to prevent heart attacks.

When should I change my medication?

Side effects or adverse reactions might lead someone to want to change their medication. Some of these are things patients notice or feel; other times, it could be detected by physicians who are monitoring them.

Medications and even supplements can interact with one another, and this can sometimes require a dose or medication change. Genetics also play a role. Different people can metabolize or react to medications in different ways based on their genetics, so while one treatment may work wonderfully for one person, it may not for another.

Is it bad to switch medications?

No. Sometimes a medication change is recommended because new and better options have come onto the market. This is true with medications for diabetes mellitus or blood thinners, for example. In the past few years, there have been several new, highly effective and safe medications that are now recommended over some of the older options.

A drug recall or backorder also could require a change in medication, and cost or insurance coverage can play a role.

Why is it important to involve a doctor before making any medication changes?

Some medications can be dangerous to stop abruptly and should be stopped only gradually, after the patient takes lower and lower doses.

Increasing medication dosages also should be done with a health care provider who can help monitor for both side effects and effectiveness. With some medications, after increasing to a certain dose, you may experience more side effects without more benefit.

Why do medications have different effects on people?

A number of factors can affect how you react to a medication, including age, sex, weight, liver or kidney function, chronic diseases, other medications and genetics. You might metabolize a medication very quickly while another person doesn’t, allowing the medication to build up quickly in the body. Not only can medications and supplements interact with one another and affect how you experience them, but your own hormones can also influence the outcome.

What makes some people more sensitive to certain medications?

You might be sensitive to medication because of the way your body metabolizes it. If you metabolize a medication slowly, the drug stays active in your body longer. For example, if you’re small in stature and older, starting out a medication at a low dose and increasing slowly may be prudent because your body may not need very much medication for you to see results.

If you’re sensitive to most medications, you may need to start with a low dose and increase slowly. It’s also a good idea to let your provider know that your body reacts this way so that they can discuss the side effects and how long they usually last, letting you know what to expect.

Some genetic tests can help providers determine what might mesh well with a person based on their body’s genetics and enzymes. These tests can sometimes be helpful if you’ve had a history of medication sensitivity.

Why do some medications need to be tapered off gradually?

Some antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, for example, shouldn’t be stopped abruptly because doing so can cause withdrawal symptoms. Your body is used to having the medication, and you might not feel well stopping it cold turkey. A slow wean can help reduce and, often, eliminate these withdrawal effects.

Your health care provider can help you wean off safely. If you’re weaning off a medication, it’s important to assess why. If you were experiencing side effects or felt the medication wasn’t effective, your doctor can work with you to determine the next best course of action to treat your condition. In some cases, if you start a new medication, the new medication can minimize the withdrawal effects of the old medication.

How long does it take for your body to adjust to new medicine?

You’ll adjust to most medications within a couple of weeks, but it can take up to four to eight weeks to adjust to certain medications. This means that the side effects you could experience when you begin taking the medicine could go away once your body adjusts. This often happens with birth control and antidepressants.

If you don’t notice a medication working right away, don’t stop it without discussing that with your medical provider. You may need more time or a higher dose to see an effect. Some side effects might not ever go away. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to discuss that with your provider to see if a change is needed.

The first step in the journey to your best health begins with a primary care provider who cares

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