Not adhering to prescribed medication has far-reaching issues.
Taking a lot of, often large, unpleasant tablets every day doesn’t inspire most people to keep up with their treatment plan.
Nor does the motivation to continue with their treatment once the symptoms of the illness start to fade away.

But these obstacles should not prompt a patient on chronic medication to stop their treatment cold-turkey or without first consulting their healthcare provider.

In fact, experts say it’s probably the worst thing you could do to yourself and your health.

“We know that often most people stop taking their chronic medication when they become symptom-free, but often symptoms return - sometimes worse than before,” said Dr Deepa Maharaj, head of the Self-medication Manufacturers Association of South Africa regulatory and technical committee.

And it’s not just those with mental illnesses at risk if they prematurely discontinue their medication.

A 2003 study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggested that only half of the patients using chronic medication in developed countries correctly followed their treatment recommendations.

The adherence statistics were even lower when it came to preventative treatments.

In the UK for example, the WHO found that up to 90% of diabetics didn’t take their medicine well enough to benefit from it.

As much as 70% of patients with high blood pressure didn’t adhere to their medical regimen.

According to the study, 41%-59% of mentally ill patients didn’t take their medicine often enough or didn’t take it at all.

While local statistics on non-compliance with medication are scant, a research paper titled “Treatment adherence in South African primary health care” which has been published in the SA Family Practice Journal reiterated how “pressing” the problem of non-adherence was in the country.

Maharaj explained that non-compliance could also have economic consequences - not only due to hospitalisation of patients but as a result of medicines becoming less effective leading to additional medication costs and out-of-hospital healthcare costs.

“And, of course, not taking your medicine correctly can result in toxic - and even life-threatening - side effects,” she added.

Research also shows that barriers to medication adherence among many patients with low socioeconomic status include high medication costs, lack of transportation, poor understanding of medication instructions, and long waiting times at the pharmacy.