How people feel about taking multiple medicines

Listen to patients and health professionals talk about how people feel when they're living with multiple medicines.

Everyone we spoke to was grateful that their medicines were keeping them alive and ‘keeping them going’. However, some people felt resentful about having to take ‘so many medicines’. This made it difficult for them to adhere to their regimen. Many people could accept taking one or two medicines and were particularly happy to do so if the medicine was having an obvious and positive impact on their symptoms, degree of comfort or ability to do the things they wanted to do.


How many medicines are ‘too many’?

Linda found the responsibility of having to take five medicines a day burdensome compared to the two slow-release tablets she now takes.

Helen is resentful about having to take a number of medicines for the rest of her life, particularly as they are not all working as well as she would like at reducing the pain from her arthritis.


What multiple medicines signifies

Having to take ‘so many’ medicines is, for many people, a clear indication that they have a serious or lifelong condition that might worsen or that they are ‘getting old’. The need to take multiple medicines, probably for the rest of their life, changed some people’s image of themselves. Some people also feel that they are partly to blame for the state of their health; others report having believed this in the past, but they have since worked through it. For some people the medicines they take are closely entwined with many areas of their life and relationships.

Lyn is disappointed in herself for needing so much pain medication but says that she just has to get used to it

PT regards the start of lifelong medicines as a different stage of life which has an impact on everything.

Mia finds that being on anything more than two medicines is a lot for a young person. Multiple medicines do not fit with a young person’s lifestyle.


New diagnoses and medicines regimens

Taking multiple medicines is particularly difficult for people who have recently been diagnosed, or whose medicines were recently prescribed or in the process of being increased.

Helen is coming to terms with the complexity and cost of her medication regimen, as well as what it means to be on an increasing number of medicines.


Long-term impact of multiple medicines

Some people, particularly if they are younger or taking high-risk medicines, have concerns about the future impact of their medicines. They are worried about the long-term side effects and the impact on their lives of being on ‘hard drugs’.

Micaela is mindful that she takes medicines that can have serious side effects and impact on her future. She was initially quite frightened but she felt reassured by the response of a specialist in whom she had a great deal of trust.

Most of the people we spoke to were keen to minimise the number of medicines they take to avoid side effects and long-term complications, even sometimes stopping complementary products.

Sue finds alternatives to medicines for pain relief whenever possible, as she does not want to overload her liver due to the condition she has and the number of medicines she is taking regularly.

People who have conditions that exert a strong influence over their lives also have a keen desire to maintain control over their body, in the face of an illness—or, for many people we spoke to, several illnesses—that could wreak havoc. Minimising the number of medicines they take is one way to do this. Another way is to make careful, considered decisions about the medicines they are going to take. However, this is not always possible.

Micaela sometimes feels that doctors are quick to take risks with her body by trialling medicines without offering the necessary information so that she can make a considered decision.

Diana is in the habit of taking her medicines but she feels that there is no real plan behind the medicines she is taking. She thinks that each addition to her regimen is quite arbitrary and she reached a point where she felt like she was taking too many.


Having no problems with multiple medicines

For others, the number of medicines they take is less of a concern than the relative seriousness of the condition or the potential risks and side effects of their medicines, and they do not struggle with the idea of having to take a number of medicines. Some people trust their health professionals implicitly, so they are not concerned about what is prescribed for them.

Judy is not worried by the number of medicines she takes because she has great faith in her GP.

When Sandy began taking medicines for her kidney condition, she was more upset by what the future held than by the medicines themselves. She feels the same way about her heart medication.

People who have their medicines introduced ‘one at a time’ sometimes find it easier taking a number of medicines than those who began all their medicines at once.

Jan has become accustomed to her medicines over time, as each one was introduced. This has made it easier for her to accommodate each medicine into her daily routine.

Linda is attempting to introduce one medicine at a time so that she can establish routines that can be maintained for the rest of her life.


Shared experiences of multiple medicines

Having experience of a close family member or parent who had the condition before them is helpful for some people. They have seen their relative manage medicines and continue to live their life. They can also compare their current situation to that of their parent’s and see that they are better placed and can work towards avoiding their parent’s situation as much as possible.

Niall’s father has managed diabetes for many years and has a more complex regimen than Niall. Consequently, Niall is optimistic about the state of his diabetes.


It gets better over time

For many people, the way they feel towards their medicines is improving over time. A number of people spoke about looking back at how they used to be so worried about taking multiple medicines, which is not the case for them now. Taking multiple medicines might still be ‘a nuisance’, but for most people we spoke to, their medicines no longer intrude to an unmanageable extent on their lives or how they see themselves. Many are reconciled to taking a number of medicines, because of the benefits they bring to their lives.

Sue regards the worst thing about the number of medicines she takes as being the work that is involved. This can be unrelenting but she just gets on with it.

Helen is still in the process of getting used to her medication regimen. She has used humour to diffuse tough situations and over time she has been able to see the benefits of taking medicines.

Suzanne sometimes finds taking her medicines bothersome but they do not intrude on how she lives her life.


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The Living with multiple medicines project was developed in collaboration with

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