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Consequences of not taking medication as prescribed

Very often patients with chronic diseases do not realize that by not taking medication correctly as prescribed, despite not having symptoms can slowly lead to damage of their affected organs. Only when these organs are affected to a greater extent than symptoms start to manifest. At this point the damage is irreversible, and complications of organ failure soon follow. The same complications can occur if a patient does not take the correct dose of medication for example under dosing with medication. On the other hand, patients that overdose on medications can have severe side effects or toxicity of the medication that may result in hospitalization. Again, with an overdose you can cause some damage to some of your organs which may result in another disease requiring treatment.

We are also faced with times where patients adjust their dosage of medication without speaking to their doctors. Patients may feel that the medication dosage is causing too many side effects, hence, to mitigate those side effects, they adjust the dose to get rid of those side effects. This may result in suboptimal control of the underlying chronic disease which may ultimately result in the chronic condition worsening quicker and organ damage settling in sooner. There are times when lowering the dose of medication is justified, however this must only be done after speaking to your doctor.


Most of us are guilty of using Google to look up our symptoms and make the diagnosis or asking a friend about their symptoms or what they used when they had similar symptoms. This can land us in a lot of trouble medically especially if the diagnosis is wrong and if not treated correctly. Certain medications may have an adverse effect on certain people as not everyone manages medication the same. Some patients may have allergies to ingredients in self-medication or may have severe side effects at the recommended dose or even have drug to drug interactions with their current chronic medication that can result in complications.

Whilst our efforts and that of family and friends may be well intentioned, it’s important to remember that each one of us experience illnesses differently. If one patient has the same symptoms as another patient, this does not mean that the diagnosis is necessarily the same. For example, a patient may have flu-like symptoms and think they have the flu, however they may be having an allergic reaction which can present with similar symptoms. Both conditions are treated slightly differently. Sharing medication or taking medication from friends or family can also be dangerous especially if you are not aware of the ingredients, its side effects, allergies, and interactions with your current medication.


Non-adherence can be tackled with open dialogue and simple to remember techniques. Patients must understand their disease and be curious about their condition. Patients often forget to ask questions. So don’t rush through your consultation, take your time and plan ahead before any consultation and ask to prepare written questions to ask your doctor at the consultation. There is great value in reading about your disease, however, ask your doctor which google sites to use before searching.  Easy to understand scientific websites specifically designed for patient information that provide valuable insights into a patient’s underlying condition are available and can help enhance understanding of the disease.  There are new innovations around treating diseases that you may find as well. Discuss these with your doctor and do not lose hope.

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About the Author

Dr. Zaheen Omar
Family Medicine, Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Psychiatry, Medical Doctor

Dr. Omar qualified as a medical doctor, Cum Laude, at the Medical University of South Africa, in Pretoria in 2003 and received the Chancellors Award in Family Medicine, Obstetrics & Gynaecology and Psychiatry. He also holds a Yale Advanced Health Care Management and HIV Management Diploma, with which he also qualified Cum Laude.

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