Signs You Probably Need To Change Your Medication

As great as it would be for prescription medications to always work as they're intended for every person, that's sadly not the case. Medical science is always changing and evolving, so doctors routinely need to stay abreast of new medications, potential side effects, and possible treatments for various health problems. Unfortunately, as Dignity Health explains, doctors sometimes need to rely on "trial and error" to find the right medication for your needs.

Although your doctor typically monitors your health with routine checkups, bloodwork, and other tests and procedures, you're still your physician's most reliable source of information. After all, you're in the driver's seat when it comes to your health, and you always have the right to ask about any prescription, how it might help you, and what side effects are possible (via Harvard Health Publishing). Understanding the signs that a medication isn't right for you can help you catch potential problems early, so that you can feel confident bringing up a possible medication switch to your doctor.

It doesn't seem like it's doing its job

You might first be alerted that a medication isn't the right one for you if it doesn't improve the symptoms you're taking it for. Say you started a medication to improve your acne, but after several weeks of taking it, you're not showing a reduction in breakouts. Or, you started a new blood pressure medication, but your blood pressure readings at home or at your doctor's office are still high. According to MedBroadcast, some medications take more time than others to start showing improvements in your symptoms. However, there's also a chance that you have the wrong dosage, or your medication isn't quite right for you.

In some cases, other medications you take can interfere with a new medication, which may result in a required prescription change to find the right combination. WebMD explains that this can happen with statins, for example. It's crucial to bring your full list of medications, including vitamins and supplements you take, to your doctor at each visit so they can prescribe medicine accordingly.

You have intolerance or allergy symptoms

If you've never taken a specific medication before, you may not know how it could affect you until you take it. Like how allergies arise from foods and environmental triggers, some people can be allergic to certain medications. The Mayo Clinic lists common medication allergy symptoms as skin rashes, swelling, fever, itchy or watery eyes, and shortness of breath. In severe cases, a person can suffer from anaphylaxis, which can cause extreme trouble breathing, a rapid pulse, vomiting, or a loss of consciousness.

You may not have an allergy to a medication, but you could still have an intolerance that might warrant a prescription change. CHI St. Joseph's Health notes that while an intolerance is not as severe as an allergy, it can still produce frustrating and sometimes severe symptoms, including diarrhea, nausea, dry mouth, and dizziness. The good news is that, with an intolerance, people can usually try a different medication from the same family. However, people with allergies will need to switch to a medication from a different family of drugs to avoid an allergic reaction.

You're concerned about its cost

According to Georgetown University, the average American adult spends $177 on out-of-pocket prescription drug costs annually, with adults aged 80 and over spending an average of $530 a year. If you're uninsured or underinsured, you could be spending much more than that on prescription drugs. UCLA Health notes that about 10% of Medicare Part D subscribers don't use the amount of medication they're prescribed to save money.

If a prescription medication is causing you financial hardship or you're concerned about your ability to pay for it in the future, you should consider talking to your doctor about making a switch. An article in American Nurse explains that biosimilar medications exist for this reason. Biosimilar medications are those that do not clinically differ from their FDA-approved counterparts in a way that is meaningful to someone's health. These alternative medications usually come with lower prescription costs for consumers and, sometimes, faster accessibility. If you have financial concerns about your medication, ask your physician if any similar, more affordable medications could work for you.

You're having trouble taking it

A medication may not be right for you if it's difficult to swallow, has a taste you can't stomach, or causes you other problems when taking it. Some medications can alter your sense of smell, taste, or mouth salivation enough to interfere with your usual eating ability. An article published in Canadian Family Physician states that these side effects may even contribute to malnutrition from food avoidance or not consuming enough calories, especially in elderly populations. It's crucial to ask about alternative medications if you're experiencing similar side effects that you attribute to your medication.

Other people have trouble swallowing large pills, making medication time stressful or even dangerous. Some medications come in chewable form to assist people who have problems with pills, like simethicone for gas relief. Others are available in orally disintegrating tablets, like zolmitriptan and clozapine, or liquids, like nimodipine and levetiracetam (via the FDA). The FDA provides guidance for pharmaceutical companies recommending that chewable medications have a palatable taste, are small enough for safe swallowing, and disintegrate easily. It's possible that your medication has a chewable or liquid form, and your doctor or pharmacist can help you find out.

Your sleep quality or energy has changed

Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night for their bodies and brains to function their best and to feel fully rested the next day (per the CDC). Switching to a new medication could disrupt your usual sleep schedule, interfering with how much sleep you get. 

According to SingleCare, drug-induced insomnia can mimic regular insomnia, making it difficult for you to fall asleep or stay asleep. The chemical makeup of some drugs can yield this result, but sometimes, it's how the drug interacts with your body that causes sleep disruptions. "Factors beyond the chemical components of a specific drug and their known side effects that can contribute to drug-induced insomnia include pre-existing conditions or diseases, sleep disorders, sleep patterns, and other indirect effects from medications," family medicine specialist Brynna Connor tells SingleCare.

Even if you do get the proper amount of rest while on your medication, you could still feel lethargic during the day. Some medications make you drowsy, which could prevent you from performing personal or work tasks safely and effectively (via Harvard Health Publishing). Whether your medication is hurting your sleep or simply zapping your energy, you might want to ask your doctor if there's an alternative that doesn't make you sleepy.

You feel overwhelmed by your medication regimen

Does keeping track of your medications make your head spin? While pill organizers can help in some cases, they're not a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone's medication regimens. People taking multiple pills a day could find it overwhelming to remember when to take which pills and to make it easy to fit their medications into their schedules.

Michigan Health suggests a few ways to streamline your medication-taking routine. First, take your pills at the same time each day to create a routine that works for you. Associate pill-taking with other tasks you complete daily, like brushing your teeth or eating lunch. You can also use a calendar or smartphone app to organize your medication schedule and remind yourself to take your medications. Some pharmacies also have special pill bottle caps to alert you when it's time for your pills.

The National Alliance on Mental Health also states that it's not uncommon to see about switching medications that don't fit well into your routine. In some cases, an extended-release or once-a-day version of your prescription can make it easier to remember to take it.

You feel sick after taking it

It's not unusual to get an upset stomach after taking some medications. In fact, Joanne Doyle Petrongolo, a pharmacist at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells Harvard Health Publishing, "Nausea is one of the most common side effects of medications we hear about." Assistant professor of pharmacy Dr. Danny McNatty explains in a Pharmacy Times article that, often, medicine-related nausea can be prevented by taking the medication with food or at a specific time of day, like bedtime. However, nausea can become so severe in some patients that it can lead to loss of appetite, malnutrition, or interference with daily activities, no matter how they take their medication.

In latter cases, a medicine switch might be necessary. Executive director of the University of Utah Center on Aging Dr. Mark Supiano (via the University of Utah) says that adverse side effects are especially common in patients who take multiple medications, as there are more chances for those medications to interact with each other. According to Dr. McNatty, switching to an alternative prescription should be considered if changing when or how you take medication doesn't work to relieve nausea symptoms (via Pharmacy Times).

You'd prefer to make reasonable lifestyle changes

According to Harvard Health Publishing, it's crucial to focus on your lifestyle, even if you're taking a prescription for a specific health issue. Doctors often recommend lifestyle changes, like healthier eating patterns or adding more activity to your day, when they prescribe medicine to allow the medication to work as effectively as possible.

But what if you want to be as medication-free as possible by making healthy lifestyle changes to improve your symptoms or health, rather than taking medication? In some cases, you might be able to reduce your symptoms with the help of therapies, exercises, or dietary changes. For example, dementia patients may thrive on consistent routines, while heartburn can sometimes be relieved by eating smaller meals or avoiding greasy foods (via Consumer Reports). Even highly problematic health challenges like hypertension could see improvement with physical activity, reduced alcohol intake, or eating a balanced diet (per NHS).

Patients who are passionate about stopping medication in favor of changes to their lifestyle should speak with their physician first, as some drugs can be dangerous to stop abruptly (via

Your antidepressant negatively affects your mood

Doctors prescribe antidepressants to assist patients with depression, anxiety, and stress. The goal of these medications is to improve symptoms and reduce interferences with daily activities. However, depending on the person and the type of medication, these prescriptions can sometimes lead to adverse side effects or a worsened mood (via GoodRx).

Some signs that your antidepressant isn't right for you include feeling more irritable or aggressive than usual, changes in your sleep patterns, and feeling fidgety. Patients may also experience suicidal thoughts, which warrant an immediate call to your doctor or an emergency hotline (per Mental Health America). According to the American Psychological Association, some patients experience side effects when prescribed medication without being evaluated by a mental health professional first. Therefore, patients with depression or anxiety should consider consulting with an experienced psychologist if they're interested in medication as well as investing in therapy to manage their symptoms.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

You could combine some medications into one

According to a peer-reviewed article in Policy Insights from Behavioral and Brain Sciences, over half of aging adults take several medications daily, and about 50% of prescription-takers have trouble sticking to a medicine-taking routine. The result can be ineffective medication regimens.

Why take two medications when you can take just one, making your routine at least a little simpler? Patients may not know that several medications come in combination forms, which could be beneficial for people who have difficulty remembering their doses. An article published on NPS Medicinewise explains that fixed-dose combination medications include two active ingredients in a single form, noting that research supports that a reduction in the number of medications a person needs to take leads to better adherence to a regimen. Two examples include eformoterol, an asthma control medication, and codeine phosphate, a cold and flu medicine.

Switching to combination prescriptions could be as simple as asking your doc if one exists for your condition.

You notice changes in your sex drive

After beginning a new medication, you might notice changes in your sex life, like a decreased desire to have sex or vaginal dryness. According to GoodRx, several medications can interfere with your sex life, such as certain blood pressure medications and antidepressants. Some drugs used to relieve heartburn, treat anxiety, or target cancer can also cause problems like decreased libido or sexual dysfunction. MedlinePlus also indicates that men could experience erectile dysfunction from medications like promethazine, labetalol, and diazepam.

The Cleveland Clinic notes that you could have a higher risk of sexual dysfunction as a side effect of your medications if you take several prescriptions at a time. Fortunately, some available treatments could help, like sex therapy, psychotherapy, or behavioral therapy. But if you don't see improvements or believe your medication is significantly affecting your sex life, it's best to bring your concerns to your doctor to see about changing to a different medication.

Your weight has fluctuated since starting your medication

Have you noticed a significant change in the scale number since beginning a prescription? According to Henry Ford Health, weight can fluctuate a good amount daily or weekly, with some people seeing as much as an eight-pound fluctuation in the same week. 

However, some medications can cause higher-than-average weight gain or loss. For instance, a scientific review found that gabapentin, tolbutamide, and olanzapine are just a few medications that can lead to weight gain. However, others are associated with weight loss, like zonisamide, bupropion, and metformin. 

If you already have a condition that's often worsened by carrying excess weight, like heart disease, you might already be on a prescription that contributes to weight gain. Injectable insulin, for example, is a culprit for some people (via AARP). If you're finding it difficult to maintain or lose weight on your prescription to the point that it's affecting your health, your doc may change your medication if there's a viable alternative (per the University of Rochester Medical Center).

Your drug has been recalled

Drug recalls happen from time to time, but they're not always an emergency. According to WebMD, some medications go through a recall because of packaging issues, like incorrect or confusing dosing information. However, other recalls can be more serious, like if the medication might contain a contaminant or cause health problems to those who take it.

Texas A&M Health explains that Class I recalls are the most severe forms, while Class II and Class III are less severe, but should still be monitored closely. However, primary care pharmacist Delaney Ivy warns that it's not always necessary to stop taking your medication and switch to another if you've been made aware of a recall. Instead, Ivy suggests contacting the pharmacy that filled your prescription. "Not every batch of pills falls under the recall. Your pharmacist can quickly tell you if the pills you received are included." If your medication does indeed fall within the recall, then speak with your doctor to find out if you should stop taking it and transition to an alternative.

You notice heart-related side effects

If you experience changes to your body that indicate a higher risk of heart disease while taking a prescription, you may need an immediate medication change. A 2016 article published in Circulation lists several medications for diabetes, heart rhythm regulation, fungal conditions and infections, and cancer treatment as some that may cause or worsen heart failure syndrome in some patients. Interferon, metformin, ketamine, and disopyramide are a few.

PharmD Shreya Patel gave an expert analysis of the research (via American College of Cardiology), stating, "The comprehensive list of medications and their implication on [heart failure] emphasizes the importance of conducting medication reconciliation at each patient encounter and encouraging patients to be actively engaged in their medication management." Patel further suggests that patients speak with their doctors to determine what medications are necessary and which may not be essential as they consider their prescriptions' potential contribution to heart disease and other adverse side effects.