For how long should I take the medicine?

The duration of the course of medication depends on the illness treated with the medicine. It is important to find out whether you can assess the duration of the medication yourself, whether the medicine is intended to be taken as a course, how soon after the disappearance of the symptoms you can stop taking the medication, or whether it is a long-term, perhaps even a lifetime medicinal treatment.

  • Medicines taken as required include anti-inflammatory analgesics used for headaches. If you have to use this kind of medicine continuously, you should visit the doctor's office for an evaluation of the symptom
  • Antibiotics are a typical medication taken as a course
  • Long-term medication is intended to be used for the entire duration of the illness. A diabetes patient, for example, will take insulin for his or her entire life

Medicines taken as required are used temporarily, and often a single dose is enough to alleviate the symptom, such as a painkiller taken for a headache. There are also medicines taken as required that you have to use for a certain time in order to achieve the necessary efficacy. Some heartburn medicines, for example, require a treatment period usually at least one week in length to achieve the desired effect. The recommended duration of treatment is stated in the package leaflet of the medicine. The doctor often also provides instructions on the length of the treatment period. When using a medicine taken as required, you must take into consideration the maximum daily dose that you must not exceed.

Antibiotics are a typical medicine taken as a course. A course means that the antibiotics, for example, must be taken until the end of the course. Indeed, the doctor often includes the words "complete the course" in the prescription instructions to emphasise this. Leaving a course of antibiotics unfinished may result in some of the bacteria staying alive instead of being killed. In such a case, there is also the risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria developing.

The need for medication does not necessarily end even if the symptoms are alleviated. Depression, for example, is this kind of illness; its medical treatment relieves the patient's condition after a couple of weeks of use. The treatment must, however, be continued for the treatment period agreed with the doctor, as stopping to take the medicine may cause the depression to relapse. On the other hand, it is important not to continue a treatment intended to be short-term for too long, because the overuse of medicine may cause, depending on the medicine, mild or more serious adverse reactions, or your system may become acclimated to the medicine. The long-term use of sleep medication intended for temporary use, for example, may lead to an addiction.

Long-term medications are intended to be taken as long as the condition exists. Conditions requiring long-term medication include asthma and high blood pressure. You should not stop taking medicines intended for a long term on your own without consulting a doctor, because a sudden interruption in taking some medicines may lead to the illness getting worse. Lifestyle changes sometimes help achieve the goal of the treatment, even to the degree that long-term medication can be stopped. This can occur when, for example, a person with high blood pressure loses weight and his or her blood pressure decreases to a normal level as a result.