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“I tried it. It didn’t work!”

By Cherie C. Binns

I am sure we have all said this at one time or another, but did you know these are likely the most common words the members of our health care team hear in a work day? I realized this morning that I was now using something to manage a symptom that I had tried and given up on about 30 years ago that had not worked for me then. My thoughts turned to why it had not worked then and was helping me now and I came up with a number of things that had changed.
  • I was eating sugar, dairy, and glutens then and have been off all three for several years now. I discovered I am sensitive to both glutens and dairy and I know that sugar produces inflammation
  • My pain is under control now and it was not back then.
  • I am exercising regularly now and I was not then.
  • My current medications do not include anything I was taking back then.

This list just scratches the surface of changes that have taken place in my life and I suspect that some of them, or a combination of them, have now made something helpful where before I did not find it to be. Or I may not have given it time to help or been skeptical that it could or would be effective. It is very easy to discount something and stop working with it when we are frustrated, in pain, depressed, angry, or just plain feeling awful.

Let’s talk about some examples. You are constipated and your nurse practitioner suggests you take MiraLAX each day. You try it for a couple of days and get no relief so you say, “I tried it. It didn’t work.” Did you know that MiraLAX takes an average of three to five days to produce results in the average person? It is good for preventing constipation if you are prone to it but does not work to relieve it if it has a hold on you. Ampyra to improve walking speed and strength takes an average of two weeks but less than a month to show you whether you are in that 40 percent of people for whom it is effective. Did you also know that you need regular exercise for this drug to work?

Some over-the-counter sleep aids like Melatonin tend to not work if you are taking an antidepressant. Others, such as Nyquil, taken when you have a cold, may have dyes in it to which you might be sensitive and that sensitivity could keep you awake. Blood pressure medicines often take several weeks to show a lowering of blood pressure. They may not work as effectively if you continue to consume large amounts of caffeine. Medicines that are given to lower your blood sugar won’t work for you if you do not also change your eating habits and lower calories and eliminate sugars.

I tell you these things because there may be things that have changed in your life since you tried something in the past. You may not have taken it for the recommended amount of time or in the suggested doses to get optimum effect. You might have thought that the medicine takes care of things without you making changes in lifestyle. There may be a different formulation of something that works better than what you previously tried. For instance, I am very sensitive to corn so medications that are made with corn starch as a filler can be a problem for me. A conversation with your pharmacist can identify drugs from specific companies that could be safe for you. All of these factors contribute to making someone believe that something does not work for them. Additionally, if something didn’t work for you in the past, it does not mean that it won’t help today.

That said, if a member of your healthcare team suggests that you try something that you remember not working for you, be specific about what you did experience while taking it including the dose, frequency, any side effects and other medications you were taking at the time. Don’t tell your team that you are allergic to something unless taking it produced hives, a rash, trouble breathing, and needed something like Benadryl or a trip to the ER to manage it. In so doing, you could be blocking the use of some very helpful medications to help conditions that develop as you age.