Making Medication Decisions

Getting the facts

Medications are often a critically important part of a successful arthritis treatment plan, and new advancements in medication treatments have expanded the options available to people living with arthritis. That said, decisions around medications can be very difficult to make. Getting all the facts about the medication choices available to you will help you to feel more comfortable and confident in your decision.

Once your doctor has made a medication recommendation, it is up to you to decide what is best for you, your family, and your life. You and your doctor should discuss the pros and cons of using the recommended medication, and you need to get all the information you can.

Here are some facts to get from your physician (along with other credible sources of information) before making a medication decision:
  • The generic and brand name of the medication(s) being recommended
  • The full list of medications in the "class" of the recommended medication
  • An explanation why a particular medication or combination of medications is being recommended over another
  • A full list of the benefits and risks of the recommended medication
  • What the most common and most serious side effects are
  • What to do if you develop side effects
  • How long you will have to take the medication
  • A list of the benefits and risks of the other medications in the "class" of the recommended medication
  • What will happen if you do not take the recommended medication
  • A list of non-medication treatment options to try in addition with the recommended medication

Once you have this information, you will be better able to discuss with your physician the full range of choices available to you and make an informed decision.

It is important to remember that in the end, while it is great to have reliable information, advice and support, a good decision for yourself is one that comes free from pressure from others. Making a decision to start a medication is your personal choice, no one else's.

Your Responsibilities

Once you make an informed decision to start a medication that decision comes with responsibilities. These include:
  • Agreeing to take the medication as prescribed
  • Getting side-effect monitoring tests done as ordered by your physician
  • Keeping track of health improvements while on the medication and reporting them to your physician at each follow-up visit
  • Reporting any uncommon or worrisome side effects you may experience to your physician right away
  • Storing the medication as instructed by your pharmacist, and paying careful attention to keeping the medication out of the reach of infants and children.

Sticking with it

In terms of "sticking with" a medication, the research shows that the single most important step a person can take is to develop a good relationship with their physician. Contrary to popular belief, a person who asks questions of their physician is viewed more positively by that physician, not as someone who is challenging their medical expertise or authority. When you have a strong working relationship with your doctor, you will be more likely to follow the treatment plan you have designed together.

Reaching an agreement with your physician about your diagnosis is another important factor in sticking with a medication. Clearly, if a person does not agree with a physician's diagnosis, then they will not have the confidence they need to take the medication being recommended.

Also, understanding what the risks are of not treating your arthritis provides you with motivation to "follow doctor's orders". For example, in rheumatoid arthritis, the research is clear that the risk of suffering long-term disability as a result of untreated (or under-treated) disease - and even premature death - is substantially greater than the risk of serious side effects from medication therapy. Knowing what the "stakes" are in terms of health outcomes is critical when it comes to medications.

Lastly, clearly understanding what the goals are of the medication therapy will help you to assess whether it is working or not. This knowledge translates into feelings of power and control over your arthritis. In the end, only you - in close consultation with your physician - can make informed decisions about starting, tapering off, or stopping medications.