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How do you feel about taking medication?

Heart disease is a lifelong condition and for most people this will mean taking lifelong medication.

Recovering from a heart attack often means having to make changes and adjustments to your lifestyle. For many people, one of the biggest challenges is getting used to taking medication and coming to terms with taking medication for the rest of their life. It is normal to have concerns and anxieties about this.

Some people stop taking their medication a few months or years down the track because they feel better, or because their risk factors improve and they no longer see the need to continue. Talk to your doctor before making any decision to stop.

Helen Thompson-Carter talks about her experience with medication after a heart attack

Top ten tips for managing your medication

1. Ask questions about your medications. We have a list of questions here – you may have others. Write down the questions you want to ask and take them with you to your next health appointment.

  • Why am I taking these pills?
  • Will they be long-term or for a short time only?
  • Which pills are essential for me to take regularly at the same time each day?
  • What side effects can I expect and will these go away if I continue taking the pills? Are there any side effects that I should tell you about immediately if I experience them?
  • Does any food interact with my medications: Is there anything I shouldn’t eat or drink?
  • Are these pills meant to be taken regularly or just as I need them?
  • If I can use these pills just as required, is there a maximum number of tablets or frequency that I should use and when should I let you know if I am using more?
  • Are there some pills that I can ‘play around’ with the dosing on? i.e. increase/decrease slowly depending on my symptoms. If yes, make sure the doctor writes down a guide (i.e. maximum number/dose, how often to reduce/increase).

2. Learn about your medications and keep a list of them with you. You can ask your doctor or pharmacist for a medication chart or card

3. Take your medication as prescribed or recommended by your doctor. Some medications are best taken at certain times of the day because of the way they work, the way your body responds to them or other medications you might be taking. However, if you are struggling with the times you take your medications, the timing can sometimes be changed. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your options

4. Remember to take each dose when you need to, but if you do forget one don’t try to catch up by taking extra tablets next time

5. Plan ahead – Get your prescription filled in plenty of time so that you don’t run out of pills

6. Don’t stop taking your medications without consulting a doctor or nurse

7. Tell your doctor or nurse about any herbal/natural health products or alternative/complementary therapies you take – Read more

8. Keep medications safe – out of reach of children

9. Never give your medications to anyone else

10. Return unused medicines to the pharmacy

This information is courtesy of the Health Quality and Safety Commission. www.hqsc.govt.nz
For more information about medication safety, visit: www.hqsc.govt.nz/assets/Medication-Safety/Other-PR/brochure-Taking-Your-Medicine-Safely-WEB.pdf

Common heart pills

Remembering to take your medication

  • Use a pillbox or blister pack – this is probably the best and easiest way to remind you to take your medication and also helps prevent you from taking double doses
  • Use technology – set an alarm, use your phone or electronic diary
  • Combine with daily task – link taking your medication with something you do everyday such as brushing your teeth or making a morning cuppa
  • Keep it visible – leave your medication in an easy to spot place but out of the reach of children
  • Get support from your the family or social network

Overcoming problems with taking medication

Getting to grips with taking medications can be tricky, especially if you have not been used to taking regular medication in the past. Some people find a tool such as a problem solving worksheet useful, as it helps them to think through the problem and make a plan of action. You could do this on your own, however it is good to get a family member or someone that you live with to work through the steps with you.

Dr Fraser Hamilton talks about remembering your medication
You will more than likely be on heart medication for the rest of your life to reduce your risk of having another heart attack, therefore it is vitally important to to remember to take them.Dr Fraser Hamilton
Dr Fraser Hamilton
I have been on Warfarin since the early 90s and I know if I stop taking it I would be dead in a couple of months because my blood would clot and I would have a stroke.Graham Lowe
Graham Lowe

Here’s an example of problem solving in action

(click each item for an example)

Step 1: Identify the problem

Forget to take medications during the day when I am at work

Step 2: Brainstorm ideas
  • Talk to doctor about taking medications at different times
  • Take the midday ones with me each day
  • Set an alarm on my phone to remind me
Step 3: Consider each option

I will talk to my doctor at my next appointment

Might forget to take the medicine with me when I go to work, but getting a blister pack will help me organise the medicines.

If I set an alarm on my phone it will remind me on the days that I am not at work as well and its easy to do.

Step 4: Choose one

I’m going to choose all three. I am going to take my medication with me,  set the alarm on my phone and talk to my doctor.

Step 5: Put my plan into action

I am going to set the alarm on my phone for 1pm because that is when I have my lunch break at work and when I take my medication. I am going to talk to my doctor about my medicines and to my pharmacist about organising a blister pack if the times cannot be changed.

Step 6: Review and refine

(one week later) I am unable to change the timing of my medicines but I got a blister pack from the pharmacist. Forgot to take my medication with me on Tuesday so I am also going to keep my blister packs next to where I charge my phone, that way I will remember to pick up my medication when I pick up my phone on the way to work. The alarm on my phone is helping.

Managing side effects of medication

The most common medications prescribed to people who have had a heart attack are those that are designed to keep risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control. There is a wide range of blood pressure lowering medicines to choose from and a combination of these is usually needed to treat high blood pressure.

Most medications used to treat high blood pressure can produce side effects but the large range of blood pressure medicines means that your doctor can often fix these side effects by changing your treatment.

Common side effects while taking medication for high blood pressure:

  • feeling drowsy
  • pain around your kidney area (on the side of your lower back)
  • a dry cough
  • dizziness, faintness or light-headedness
  • a skin rash
  • swelling of your feet.

Cholesterol lowering medication (usually statins) may also cause side effects.

Common side effects from using a statin:

  •  muscle pain
  • stomach problems.

Like the blood pressure medications, there are a range of different types of statins available and side effects can be fixed by changing to a different one.

Tell your doctor if you are experiencing side effects. Only you know how severe the side effects are. Some side effects resolve themselves within a week or two but some people react quite badly. Tell your doctor straight away if you are experiencing a lot of discomfort.

Download a handy chart for keeping track of your side effects here.

Dr Fraser Hamilton talks about managing side effects of medication
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Discuss side effects with my health professional

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Identify questions about my medication to discuss with my health professional

I never thought much about my heart but now I know it is my engine.Keith
Keith
Everything is dependent on my heart, mechanically, electrically, physiologically, emotionally and passionately. Whatever happens it all comes back to how well your heart performs in all areas.Helen Thompson-Carter
Helen Thompson-Carter

Interactions

Sometimes taking two or more drugs together can cause an unexpected effect. This may prevent either of the medicines from working properly or may cause greater adverse effects. All medicines have the potential to interact. In fact, interactions can occur with not only drugs, but also food, drinks (including herbal teas), herbal medicines and supplements.

It is important to tell anyone you seek health advice from, including doctors, pharmacists, naturopaths and herbalists of the products you take. This includes ALL medications, products from pharmacies, health food shops, supermarkets.

Triple Whammy

Two medicines commonly and safely prescribed together are an ACE inhibitor and a thiazide.

BUT if you add a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory for pain relief such as diclofenac (Voltaren), ibuprofen (Nurofen), naproxen (Noflam) or become dehydrated, the combination of these three medicines can cause kidney problems.

Continue the journey

Common Heart Pills
Discover more about common heart medications and their purpose
Read more
Making it a habit
Discover how to maintain new healthy lifestyle changes
Read more

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