Almost 70% of all Americans take at least one prescription drug, and more than half take at least two. The advent of prescription drugs is rife with controversy. From claims that doctors push prescription drugs to people who don't need them to complaints that the most beneficial drugs are impossible to afford, almost everyone has strong feelings about the issue. One thing is clear, no matter where you stand: all prescription drugs have the potential to cause side effects. There is no doubt that many drugs save lives, but patients often cut back on or eliminate their drugs because of side effects such as insomnia, low libido, aggression, and suicidal thoughts.
You don't have to choose between good health and a life free of unpleasant side effects. Follow these simple strategies to maximize your prescription drug benefits while minimizing side effects.
Understand how the drug works
To reduce side effects, you must first understand how the drug works. Read the insert that came in the packet, and spend some time on message boards and consumer education pages. Answers to the following questions can help you develop a coping strategy:
- Does the drug work immediately, or does it work by building up in your system over time?
- Are there any lifestyle remedies known to reduce side effects?
- Which systems in your body does the drug affect?
- Are there any medical conditions the drug commonly exacerbates?
Give it time and make some tweaks
Many drugs, particularly those for depression, produce side effects before they produce results. Give the drug at least a month, unless the side effects are truly intolerable. If the side effects persist, a few simple strategies can help. Those include:
- Changing the time of day at which you take the drug. For instance, if you experience insomnia, taking the drug in the morning might help.
- Asking your doctor to reduce the dosage.
- Tapering your dosage over time; this will only work with some drugs, so talk to your doctor first. Sometimes, taking a half-pill in the morning and half-pill at night reduces side effects.
Look at your diet
A number of drug-related side effects evaporate with the right diet. There's no magic recipe, of course, but a diet rich in lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables is always a healthy choice. Spend some time reading about the drug you take. You might find that a particular diet works well for many people. For instance, people on stimulant drugs often find that they need to eat smaller, more frequent meals.
Cultivate a healthier lifestyle
Few drugs alleviate all symptoms of the conditions they are designed to treat. You may still experience bouts of depression while on an antidepressant, or your blood pressure may occasionally spike even on medication. A healthy lifestyle can help you control these symptoms, and may reduce other side effects. No matter which drug you take, try the following:
- Embrace healthy sleep, getting at least eight hours each night and going to bed around the same time each evening.
- Cultivate a hobby you love, and spend time on it each week.
- Get plenty of physical activity—150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, at a minimum.
- Drink at least eight glasses of water per day.
It might seem too simple. After all, you've heard it a million times. But good health advise is ubiquitous for a reason: it works. Begin leading a healthy life, and you may eventually find yourself off of medication altogether.