Why You Shouldn't Skip Your Medication

Missing a dose or two of your medications may not seem like a big deal. Americans fail to follow their doctor or pharmacist’s instructions about half the time.

Sometimes the skipped doses cause no obvious problems. But many medications won’t work right if you don’t take them when and the way you’re supposed to.

Problems It Can Cause

Forgetting or purposely forgoing your meds can affect you in ways you might not expect. That’s especially true if you skip multiple doses.

You may miss the best window of time. Some pain medicines for arthritis work best if you treat your symptoms before they start. Otherwise, your pain flare-ups may be harder to tamp down. If you have asthma, using your inhaler too late means you may not prevent irritated airways and the symptoms that follow.

Your treatment might fail. If you don’t finish your antibiotics, your infection might last longer or even come back. Then you may need a longer drug course or more powerful antibiotics. Incomplete treatments also may make you resistant to antibiotics, so take all your prescribed pills even if you feel better.

You might feel “withdrawal” effects. Antidepressants, for example, may work by triggering chemical changes in your brain. If you miss a dose or quit altogether, the sudden chemical shifts can lead to symptoms like:

Your disease may get harder to treat. If you skip your HIV medication, it may allow your virus strain a chance to gain resistance to the treatment. That will make your infection harder to control.

You might face serious complications. If you don’t take your blood pressure pills for your heart as prescribed, it could raise your chances of a heart attack, a stroke, kidney failure, or other complications. Even OTC drugs can be dangerous to skip. If your doctor told you to take aspirin every day after a heart attack or a stroke, quitting may make your condition “rebound” and cause another heart attack.

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What to Do if You Miss a Dose

The answer depends on the type of medication you’re taking. For some drugs, your doctor may tell you to take your medication as soon as you realize you missed a dose. For other drugs, you may be told to just to skip past the missed dose and pick up with the next one.

If you don’t know what to do, first call your doctor or pharmacist. If you can’t get a hold of them, the information that came with your medication may have answers.

There are also some general rules that apply to missed doses:

If it’s been less than 2 hours since your missed dose, go ahead and take it. Then keep taking later doses as usual.

If it’s been more than 2 hours since your missed dose, the answer depends on how often you take your medication:

  • If you usually take it once or twice a day, it’s probably safe to take it as long as your next dose isn’t for another few hours. Don’t do this with insulin.
  • If you take it three or more times a day, it’s usually safe to wait and take your next dose at the regular time.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on February 03, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

FDA: “Why You Need to Take Your Drugs as Prescribed or Instructed,” “Are You Taking Your Medication as Prescribed?”

Arthritis Foundation: “Skipping Your Meds?”

Mayo Clinic: “Daily aspirin therapy: Understand the benefits and risks,” “Antidepressant withdrawal: Is there such a thing?”

University of Rochester Medical Center: “When You’re Taking Heart Medicine.”

American Heart Association: “Medication Adherence - Taking Your Meds as Directed.”

Kaiser Permanente: “IV Antibiotics in the Non-Hospital Setting.”

KidsHealth.org: “What If My Child Doesn’t Take His or Her Asthma Medication?”

American Diabetes Association: “DKA (Ketoacidosis) & Ketones.”

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