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When is it time to stop taking a medication?

As a pharmacist I am often asked “Will I have to take this medication for the rest of my life?”

Sometimes that is the case, but often there are things patients can do to improve health and reduce the number of medications needed.

Diet, exercise, weight loss, quitting smoking or surgical interventions can make a big difference in medication requirements. Motivated patients may be able to control chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol with lifestyle modifications.

Polypharmacy, or the use of multiple medications, increases the risk of drug interactions, side effects, non-adherence, and financial problems.

As patients get older, some medications are no longer appropriate, as they can increase the risk of falls and injuries (sedatives) or aggravate cognitive decline (anticholinergics). In other cases, the benefits for older patients are not clear, due to lack of studies in elderly populations. As patients get older and life expectancy becomes shorter, the benefits of tightly controlling blood sugar or cholesterol and preventing the long term complications of these conditions are diminished.

In many cases, a new and better medication may come along and replace that one you thought you had to take forever.

Some medications are eventually found to be not very effective, and can be discontinued. When the risks outweigh the benefits, it is time to stop.

Patients should regularly review their medications with the pharmacist and the prescriber and look for ways to simplify their regimens.

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