Why some people don't like using prescription medicines

Published in Medicinewise Living

Date published: About this date

By NPS guest writer, Dr Edwin Kruys

Some time ago, a friend told me she was suffering terrible migraines. About three times per week she had to lie down in a dark room for hours, until the headaches subsided.

She was taking large amounts of paracetamol and ibuprofen. Over the years she had spent thousands of dollars on acupuncturists, naturopaths, masseurs, and herbal and homeopathic medicines. But the headaches didn't subside.

"Did you see your GP?" I asked. To my surprise, she hadn't. "I'm afraid she will prescribe strong medication," she said. "You probably disagree, but I'm against medication. I prefer to deal with illnesses the natural way."

She was right: I didn't agree. But her concerns were real. Many of my patients feel the same way. There are many reasons why some people don't like using prescription medicines. Here's a top-10, based on what my patients have told me over the years:

  1. Fear of adverse reactions and possible long-term side effects.
  2. The stigma of having to take pills because of an illness.
  3. Preference for natural remedies and herbal, natural, vitamin or mineral products.
  4. The perception that taking a prescription medicine is a sign of weakness or failure.
  5. Fear of becoming reliant on or addicted to medicine.
  6. The cost of a doctors visit and prescription medicines.
  7. The perception that medication may not really be necessary.
  8. Uncertainty about the benefits of medicines.
  9. Negative press or experiences by others.
  10. Lack of trust in pharmaceutical companies.

My friend was desperate and the migraines were clearly impacting on her quality of life. I convinced her that over-the-counter medicines like paracetamol and ibuprofen, while they can help treat migraines in some people, have serious side effects if she takes more than the recommended dose. It was clear to her that in this case the complementary medicines hadn't worked either. She decided to see her GP. Much to her surprise she was prescribed medication that reduced her headaches to less than once a month — without any side effects.

Many people prefer to take herbal, natural, vitamin or mineral products, and fear medicines prescribed by a doctor. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is important to remember that these are also medicines and they can have side effects and interactions too. Don’t hesitate to discuss your concerns with your GP. This isn’t a sign of weakness or failure but just due diligence. GPs often suggest natural 'lifestyle' remedies as well. Most doctors are happy to go through the pros and cons of various options, including any concerns from the top-10 list above, before writing out a script. The final decision is, as always, yours.

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Dr Edwin Kruys is a general practitioner from Western Australia, who writes about healthcare, social media and eHealth.