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Don’t Be A Good Patient

Don’t Be A Good Patient

Doctors like “good” patients. They even have a technical term for these people. Physicians call them compliant. Bad patients are non-compliant.

A compliant patient follows doctor’s orders. In most cases that means taking the pills that are prescribed without too many complaints.

This makes complete sense from the physicians’ perspective. After all, doctors want their patients to avoid having heart attacks or other health catastrophes. Controlling cholesterol and blood pressure are good ways to reduce those risks.

The trouble with this approach is that it tends to focus the doctor’s attention on numbers: blood pressure numbers or LDL cholesterol. As a result, the patient as a person may fade from view. At times, a person having trouble with a treatment may have difficulty getting the physician to address it.

This patient’s reaction to medication was treated with another drug, time after time:

“First I was put on Zocor to control my cholesterol. That caused Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), so I was prescribed Requip. I then became depressed and was prescribed the antidepressant Lexapro. It made me into a zombie, so I was prescribed a low dose of Ritalin, a stimulant drug for ADHD.

“I developed a mild heart arrythmia [likely an effect of the Ritalin] and was prescribed a calcium channel blocker (CCB) to control the heart rhythm. I took the CCB for about three weeks and felt so bad I wanted to commit suicide.

“When I tried to refill the Zocor at the local pharmacy instead of through mail order, the pharmacist told me he could not give me the CCB and a statin at the same time. That did it for me. I had been a zombie for far too long.

“I swore off all prescription medicine. Without all these pills, my mental fog lifted, the terrible muscle spasms I had everywhere relaxed and I no longer had RLS.”

We don’t condone people stopping their prescription drugs without their doctors’ involvement and advice. But we hate it when doctors just prescribe more medicine to treat drug side effects, instead of stepping back to see if there is some other way to accomplish the goal. Every problem this person developed was a medication side effect—and each one was treated with yet another drug that caused an additional complication.

When a patient suffers a side effect, the experience should be acknowledged. One person told us: “My psychiatrist prescribed Geodon [an antipsychotic drug] for bipolar disorder. After two days on Geodon, I had a serious side effect. I started shaking uncontrollably. I also had chills and my heart was racing. Then I started having hallucinations.

“I saw psychedelic colors and birds flying around the room. I heard voices and a song that kept repeating itself over and over again. The hallucinations ended after a few hours, but the shaking continued for a couple of days.

“My psychiatrist's only response was, ‘That’s interesting.’ I was infuriated because it was such a scary experience. I have no personal or family history of schizophrenia or hallucinations and I have not had a hallucination since.”

Physicians must warn patients of common or serious drug side effects and patients have a responsibility to let doctors know if they run into problems. Being a “good” patient and keeping quiet could cause terrible harm.


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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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