How to manage your medicines

Whatever else you do to improve your health, your medication is the foundation of your treatment, as it affects how quickly and how well you’ll recover.

Scientists have proved that taking your tablets can help to reduce the progression of heart disease and significantly increase how long you live. But having to take so many new medicines can be overwhelming and confusing at first. 

Here, we answer some common questions about managing heart medicines.

Question: ‘I don’t feel any better, so why should I bother taking them?’

Answer: In the first few weeks, your medication may not lead to any obvious benefits. This is because its main job is to stop you having another heart attack or having another problem such as a stoke, and you can’t necessarily feel that happening. Some of the medicines may be reducing risk factors, such as high cholesterol levels or blood pressure, that your GP or practice nurse will monitor and show that they are working.

Question: ‘Will there be any side effects from such a mix of medicines?1

Answer: All medicines can cause side effects, but not everyone will be affected. For example, amoungst other side effects, ACE inhibitors can cause a cough, beta blockers may often lead to cold hands and feet, and statins can cause muscle pain. With oral-antiplatlet therapies, you may also notice that you bruise more easily or may bleed more than usual if you cut yourself. Always check the patient information leaflet to read about any known side effects and speak to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you have any questions or concerns.

The key thing to remember is that even if they’re causing side effects, your medicines are also working to decrease your risk of having another heart attack. In many cases, side effects ease after a while. If they don’t, your doctor may be able to prescribe an alternative.

Question: ‘I have to take so many tablets – how can I best manage them all?’

Answer: Medication management is all about routine. Try to take your pills at the same time as another reliable daily routine, like brushing your teeth or having your morning cup of tea. Every time you see your toothbrush, or put the kettle on, it’ll cue you to take your tablets. After a while it’ll become second nature. 

If you have to take your medicines at different times throughout the day, try setting alarm reminders, perhaps on your mobile phone. If you have a smartphone, you can download a pill reminder app to alert you when your tablets are due. A drug diary can also help. 

If you are taking medicines more than twice a day, then review this with your GP or pharamist to see if you can change timings to make this more convienient.

Question: ‘Can’t I just take one pill?’1

Answer: Each tablet works on a different aspect of your condition – one may help your heart, one lowers cholesterol, while another lowers blood pressure.  Because they all do specific things, they each need to be prescribed in a different dose for individuals, and often taken at different times. Plus, if you took one combined pill and then suffered side effects, it would be impossible to work out what element was causing the problem.

Question: ‘Am I giving up my independence?’

Answer: If you were only in hospital for a short time, it can be easy to assume your condition isn’t serious and see taking your medicines as an unnecessary hindrance, especially if you’re suffering side effects. All cardiac events are a major warning, so your doctor has prescribed medicines to reduce your chances of having another, perhaps more serious, event. 

The best way to retain your independence is to take your medicines as prescribed. 

Question: ‘I feel fine now – surely having the odd break won’t do me any harm?’ 2

Answer: Research has shown that up to 50 per cent of patients don’t take their medicines as directed, despite the fact that this can have a huge impact on how likely you are to have another heart attack. 

Your doctor has prescribed certain doses of medication to give you the best protection against a future heart attack or stroke. For this reason, it is essential to take each tablet as directed. Some medicines can take a while to become fully effective, so if you miss one or two, you increase your risk of another attack. 3

Question: ‘Taking tablets every day reminds me I could have a heart attack. What if I don’t want to think about it all the time?’ 4

It’s quite common for taking medicines to feel like a burden, but try to see them as proven protection against an attack and, rather than a reminder of your risk, it’s your chance to take control and manage it. You’ve survived a cardiac event and your medicines are just part of the lifestyle changes you can make to prevent another. Ignoring heart disease won’t make it go away; it could make it worse. Think of your medicines as tools to help reduce your risk.

Question: ‘How can I stop my family feeling anxious when I’m taking medicines?’

The best way to ease your family’s anxiety is to keep them involved. The more they know about your condition, why you’re taking medicines and the things that can be done to improve your health, the less they’ll worry.

FIND OUT MORE:

Finding ways to manage stress can help you to feel better. Read our tips

1https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-attack/recovery/, Accessed November 2018

2Brown, M. T., & Bussell, J. K. (2011). Medication adherence: WHO cares?. Mayo Clinic proceedings, 86(4), 304-14, pages 1-2

3https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/treatments/medication, Accessed September 2018

4Permission to publish: Clare Moloney, Health psychology specialist, Atlantis Healthcare

5Permission to publish: Clare Moloney, Health psychology specialist, Atlantis Healthcare