4 Tips for Sticking with Your Injectable Medication Routine
When you’re prescribed an injectable medication for managing a chronic condition, it’s important to take it consistently and as directed.
“That means taking it on time, taking the right dose, and using the right route of administration,” says Elizabeth Schulman, M.D., a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
If you don't take your medication as prescribed, you aren't likely to benefit from it. Medications are designed to work in a specific way that requires adherence—meaning following all the instructions.
The thing is, it can be tough to adhere to medications. Fear, pain, and forgetfulness are just a few potential roadblocks that can stand in the way when you’re taking an injectable. But there are things you can do to help yourself stay on track and set yourself up for treatment success.
Overcoming the Fear of Injections
One of the main reasons most people who are prescribed an injectable drug don’t take is concern about the injection itself. This can be a fear of needles, an aversion to the size of the needle, or worries about injection site pain, according to a study of people taking injected insulin for type 2 diabetes.
“Fear of injections is not something to minimize,” says Schulman. “I explain to my patients the benefit is that they are really easy to use, and often times patients don’t even need to see the needle.”
If you’re intimidated by the idea of an injection, talk to your doctor about the type of injection you’re receiving and how exactly it’s administered. Some may not be as painful as you’d expect. Plus, some medications are administered in different frequencies—for example, once every month, or once every three months. Ask your doctor to see if you qualify for less frequent dosing if you really can’t stand needles.
“I explain that with pens and auto-injectors, it’s a tiny needle that just goes under the skin—it’s not an intramuscular injection like the flu shot,” says Tina Bhutani, M.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of California San Francisco and co-director of the UCSF Psoriasis and Skin Treatment Center.
Some newer drug formulations are designed to be less painful, says Bhutani. There are also steps you can take to reduce injection site pain:
- Take the medication out of the fridge 15 to 20 minutes ahead of time to bring it to room temperature.
- Use that time to relax, since tensing up can increase injection pain.
- Apply an ice pack to the injection site beforehand to help numb the area and reduce pain.
- Change the injection site location each time. Aim to move it at least one-and-a-half inches away from the previous injection site. Confirm with your doctor which areas of the body are best for your particular injectable medication.
- Massage the injection site post-injection to help with pain relief.
“For the vast majority of patients, once they get over the initial fear, the benefit is so great that they may prefer injectables compared to taking pills,” says Schulman.
Other Tips for Taking Injectable Meds
Once you get past any initial concerns about injectable medications, follow these steps to stay on top of your treatment regimen:
Have a medical pro walk you through it. “Whenever I’m starting a patient on an injectable, I make sure we go through it together,” says Schulman. “The first time, if not the first couple of times, I have them come into the office or set up a nurse visit to really go through, step by step, how to use the medication—both for safety and for comfort.”
Educate yourself. Read up on your particular medication to understand how it works. “I make sure to also provide online or home resources for patient education,” says Schulman. Some people may feel less inclined to stick with a medication if they don’t see results right away, for example. But if you know that it’s expected to take some time, you may be more motivated to keep at it. You’ll also need to understand proper storage, inspection, and disposal methods.
Set reminders. “Injections can be harder to remember, as they’re not always an everyday thing, so it’s harder to create a routine,” says Bhutani. “Schedule reminders on your phone or in a calendar.” Pharmacies can also be a helpful resource for contacting you when you’re due for a refill or your next dose, she adds.
Enlist an injection buddy. “If you’re still having trouble giving yourself injections, have a close family member or friend become the person to administer them,” suggests Schulman.
“The needle can be scarier than other medications, but it can be a better option long-term,” says Bhutani. “With injections, there’s usually no worry about food interactions, and other than doing the shot yourself, you typically won’t feel different or know you’re taking treatment.” However, some injectables do come with side effects, so it’s important to monitor for them.
And be sure to talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your injectable treatment regimen. “A lot of patients who take these medications need more frequent checkups, so, if any issues arise, you and your doctor can take care of it,” says Bhutani.
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