Is it possible to live without pills?
In the past, doctors were very good at diagnosis but not really able to do much about disease. We could tell you you had pneumonia, a stroke or a heart attack but the treatments of the day were generally ineffective and none were based on any good level of evidence.
These days, we are fortunate indeed to have potent effective medications available that can prevent or treat diseases but might it be possible to live without them?
Before we go on, it is important to rememmber that you should never stop or change any regular medication without first discussing it with your doctor.
Some medications are dangerous to stop quickly and of course, you will be doing without the benefits.
The decision to live without some of your medication is an individual one and needs to be discussed in a proper consultation.
Why Reduce Medication?
There are benefits and risks in taking any medication. All therapies (even natural ones) have side effects and of course, simply taking the pills is unpleasant. If you are finding it difficult to take your medication regularly then sometimes you get more side effects than benefits so there is a lot to be said for taking only the medication that is really necessary and at the lowest necessary dose.
The main reasons for medication reduction are:
- Not getting side effects
- Avoiding interactions with other medications
- Simplifying medication taking
- Not liking taking medication (on principle)
- Preference for more natural methods
- Feeling in control
It is a good thing to feel in control of your life and having to take pills can detract from that. Choosing healthier options can be a great way to get that control back. You might be surprised to find that all the methods of improving your health that we suggest will be good for you in many ways beyond medication reduction so you really have nothing to lose by trying them.
It is important to point out that by natural methods we do not mean homeopathic remedies, herbal options or other tablets - that is just swapping a proven, controlled medication for one with no evidence of benefit and no controls on safety or quality. We mean fixing the root cause of the problem so you don't need as much medication. The fence at the top of the cliff, if you like, rather than the ambulance at the bottom of it.
Why did you prescribe them in the first place?
Doctors don't prescribe medication without thought - there is a good reason you have been given the medication. Usually this is to prevent disease or to treat symptoms. Sometimes medications do both. A few examples might help:
- We know from quality studies that if we give all patients who have had a heart attack cholesterol lowering medication, aspirin and a beta blocker, fewer patients will have another heart attack.
- Asthmatic patients who get symptoms are more likely to go to hospital and to die of asthma so preventing symptoms is very important.
- High blood pressure often causes no symtoms, but treating it reduces the risk of kidney disease, heart attacks and strokes.
- People with back pain like painkillers to deal with their back pain.
Whenever a doctor prescribes medication, consideration is given as to whether the potential benefits from a medication outweigh the potential harm.
Some care is very individualised, with medications chosen with great care for particular reasons and other care is more formulaic.
In the case of heart attacks, for instance, we follow a set 'script' - all patients with heart disease shall be given these medications unless there is a good reason not to, whereas controlling blood pressure to prevent heart disease in the first place requires careful choices of medication depending on individual circumstances.
In both cases though, your doctor thought you would be better off taking the medication and any decision to reduce medication needs to be discussed with them.
What if I just stop my pills anyway?
In consultation with your doctor, it is possible to stop almost any medication. Some can be stopped quickly and others need to be tailed off slowly.
The risk you may run from not taking medication is higher for some pills and lower for others so it is important to weigh the risks carefully before you wade in and try to do without. NEVER stop medication without asking your doctor first.
How do I reduce my medication?
Whether or not you can reduce your medication depends on why you are taking it.
Why not have a read of our articles - we have brought together some great advice which might help.
Some of the changes we suggest are simple and some more complex. Some have more benefit, some less but almost all have good, solid medical advice to support them. We'll tell you the level of evidence and how long it might take to see benefit so you can stay in control.
The best thing is, it will not upset your doctor at all if you do the things we suggest! Just try making the changes you can then, after a while, go and speak with your doctor and see if you have improved. Even if you don't, everything we suggest is good for you anyway so you have nothing to lose by trying.
- Never stop taking medication without discussing it with your doctor.
- Always check with your doctor if you feel worse.
The following images are used with the kind permission of their creators under the Creative Commons Licence.
Pills e-Magine Art