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Don't Stop Medication Without Doctor's Input

Consider Other Options Before You Stop Medication


Updated September 13, 2012

For various reasons, arthritis patients sometimes become frustrated and want to stop medication. While they may want to stop -- either one pill or many pills -- they should not stop medication without doctor's advice. There are important reasons why you should not stop medication on your own. Let's look at those reasons, and consider other options.

Why Do You Want to Stop Medication?

There are a few likely reasons for wanting to stop:

  • You may be experiencing unpleasant side effects from the medication or you fear potential side effects.
  • You may feel the medication is ineffective.
  • Cost of the medication. We're in an era of unaffordability.

Those may all be legitimate concerns but it's not as clear-cut as it seems at first. Let's consider each point separately.

Unpleasant Side Effects

Many arthritis patients take more than one medication. If you are experiencing a specific side effect, it may take some time to identify which medication is causing the problem. Have you considered that the side effect may be caused by one of your other medications rather than the one you thought you should stop? Have you also considered that the side effect you are experiencing may be caused by a drug interaction (an interaction between two or more drugs)?

It can be a challenge to sort through the possibilities -- especially if the side effect is more vague than specific. Discuss your problem with your doctor. Through careful monitoring and the process of elimination, together -- you and your doctor -- can solve the problem. Carefully, methodically -- not abruptly.

The Medication Seems Ineffective

In my 35+ years of living with rheumatoid arthritis, I have learned a thing or two. Such as, after you achieve a therapeutic level with a particular medication, it may seem like the medication is not working. More accurately, the medication has reached a plateau, but it is still working. At that plateau, your pain and functional status have leveled off. At that point, the drug's effectiveness seems less dramatic. It becomes more like a maintenance dose.

Exorbitant Cost of Medication

There's no denying it -- prescription drugs can be expensive. But before giving up a medicine because of cost, look into assistance programs, whether they are sponsored by government or drug manufacturers.

Ask your doctor for free samples of the drugs you take also. The solution to the cost issue may not come quickly but it is essential that you not ignore help that is available to you.

Bottom Line - There Is a Right Way and Wrong Way to Stop Medication

Well beyond any discussion of side effects, ineffectiveness, and cost -- there is danger. With certain medications, it can be dangerous to stop taking them suddenly. Prednisone is a drug that must be tapered slowly, otherwise prednisone withdrawal symptoms would be a serious consequence. There are other drugs, like antidepressants, that should not be stopped abruptly. The list goes on and on.

The right way is for you to discuss each of your medications with your doctor. Don't stop the discussion after asking the drug's name and when and why you are taking it. At the time you are prescribed the drug, you should ask how to stop the medication if you feel the need. It's an essential question and you should have the answer up front.

The right way to stop medication is to involve your doctor in the decision. And that's to ensure your safety.

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