This is part of a series by Pharmacist George, a Connect site advocate. George will be suggesting small actions toward a healthy lifestyle and sharing excerpts from his book. Read "Part 1" here.

During my pharmacy career, I have come to realize that a good majority of people with chronic diseases are making the same common mistakes that put their lives in danger. Whether people are unaware or choosing to ignore the risk, it doesn’t change the fact that the choices they are making directly affect their lifespan and their quality of life.

All of these mistakes can be totally rectified with proper awareness. This is the second in a three-part series where we'll discuss those situations along with solutions.

Mistake #2: Not taking medications as prescribed and making treatment changes without consulting with the prescriber.

Solution: This is a $290 billion national problem, which accounts for 10 percent of the total U.S. healthcare budget according to the New England Healthcare Institute. Actually, of the 3.8 billion prescriptions filled in 2007 only half were taken as directed according to Kaiser Foundation.

Moreover, it is estimated that one out of three people never fill their medications and three out of every four Americans don’t take their medications as prescribed. This is causing tens of thousands of people to die every year as a direct result of not adhering to their prescribed medications - a totally preventable situation.

These statistics are reflected in my daily pharmacy practice when I witness a majority of patients making inappropriate decisions about their chronic medications for diabetes, high blood pressure and other diseases. People often times are skipping days, only taking blood pressure medications when they “feel a headache coming” or stopping their diabetes treatment because their “blood sugar is fine,” or for a variety of other reasons.

My best advice to you is to be informed about your drugs. Take them as prescribed and do not make any decisions about any changes before consulting with your prescriber, because if you don't, your life will be in danger.

Mistake #3: Not knowing or monitoring your numbers.

Solution: During counseling I always ask people if they monitor the vital parameters that apply to them. For example, for people with diabetes I ask whether they monitor their blood sugar, for heart disease I ask whether they monitor their blood pressure, and so on.

I can assure you that out of every 10 patients I counsel maybe only one or two know their numbers. I get various excuses such as “My doctor checked it last visit" (which was three months ago), “I don’t have a glucose meter or a blood pressure machine, “ “My sugar is fine why do I need to check again," “I can’t afford it…” and many other excuses.

Here’s my advice to everyone: your health is your responsibility and not your doctor’s. It is as important as your sight. How can you expect to get to safer shores if you’re on a boat in the middle of The Atlantic Ocean without navigation gear. Can you get to safety that way? Of course not. It is crucial to get your monitor because it will save your life and will be the best investment you ever made. Talk to your pharmacist about cheaper alternatives.

Small Action of The Week:

More physical activity tips: While watching TV stand up and walk around or in place the duration of the commercial every time one comes on.

Keep up with "Actions of The Week" from previous articles.

Lifestyle Makeover for Diabetics and Pre Diabetics

Here’s an excerpt from “Lifestyle Makeover for Diabetics and Pre Diabetics:”

Lifestyle Makeover for Diabetics and Pre Diabetics
by George F. Tohme, Pharmacist

During my pharmacy practice, I realized that most people have a stigma about taking medications for prolonged periods of time for their chronic conditions. Consequently, they might make personal and ill-informed treatment decisions such as stopping their medications, or taking them intermittently to save money, or running out of medications and not taking the time to renew them in a timely fashion, or for various other reasons they interrupt the flow of the treatment without consulting with their pharmacist or doctor. This is a dangerous practice and can lead to dire consequences.

Throughout the history of my practice, day in and day out, I heard these same statements from patients who either stopped taking their medications or were not taking them appropriately:

“I take my blood pressure medication only when I’m not feeling good, and I usually can tell when I need it!”

“I stopped taking my medications because I felt better, and my diabetes is doing good.”

“I can’t afford my diabetes medications or my cholesterol medications, so I only have been taking them 2 or 3 times a week.”

“I did not take the blood pressure medication that the doctor prescribed because I don’t want to have to take it for the rest of my life.”

“I don’t take my cholesterol medications because I don’t want my body to get used to it, and I don’t want that medication to take over my body.”

“I told my wife to stop taking her blood pressure medications because I don’t want her to get addicted to them.”

“The side effects that I read about my blood pressure, my cholesterol and diabetes medications were awful, so I stopped taking them because I thought it was dangerous to my health.”

“My sugar levels were good and never higher than 160 first thing in the morning, so I decided to not take the diabetes medications any more.”

“I don’t want to take blood pressure medication and cholesterol medications for life because there’s nothing wrong with me!”

“I have not been taking my diabetes, cholesterol, and blood pressure medication since I moved here about 9 months ago. I’m still looking for a doctor in this area.”

“It has been days since I ran out of my diabetes medications and my doctor has not okayed the refill request you people in the pharmacy have placed with his office."

By the way, whenever you are taking any kind of chronic medications and the pharmacy is calling the doctor for you to renew your prescription, always ask for a medication loaner if you are out. Sometimes pharmacy personnel forget to ask if you ran out of your medications. Never interrupt your treatment and always ask for a medication loaner; any pharmacy will be glad to do so.

First, let me dispel some myths and provide general guidance regarding long-term medications you take for any chronic condition. Never make personal treatment decisions without consulting with your pharmacist or doctor. Please know that you should have no ill feelings at all if you take medications for any conditions for any length of time. If you have pain or have an infection or a cold, your doctor prescribes medications to treat them. You probably take a multivitamin or a calcium pill daily and for life (if not, you should).

The absolute same situation applies to any other chronic condition, including diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, depression, sexual dysfunction, and heart disease. It has been shown by numerous trials that the drugs available to treat these conditions are truly lifesaving, as they keep your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol or the condition being treated at bay. Consequently, all sorts of fatal complications are averted. We truly should feel so lucky that we are living in this era of advanced medicine and medicinal technology.

Do not be reluctant, not for a minute, to take your medications diligently, and don’t make any changes without informing your pharmacist or doctor. Taking your medications intermittently or when you think you need them does not protect you from controllable deadly complications. Only when you take your medications daily, at regular intervals, as prescribed, will you get the best protection from the medication.

This does not mean that you should not question what you have been prescribed. You should be informed; if in doubt, you should question what your doctor has prescribed, and you can call the pharmacist and ask questions, or you can secure a second opinion from an alternate doctor.
If you are concerned about side effects, which you read about in the leaflet that accompanies the medications, talk to your pharmacist about your concern before making any decision to stop the medication. Professionals can interpret these side effects or these concerns of yours in a different and clearer way than a nonprofessional can. Most of these side effects are minor and manageable and occur in a very small percentage of people.
When your doctor decides on a medication course, he or she weighs the benefits vs. consequences; and the benefits of these drugs, most often, far outweigh any consequences. So never make personal decisions and uninformed decisions about any kind of medication without consulting with professionals first.

Also, it is very important not to share or “prescribe” your medication to anyone else. Likewise, do not accept your friend’s, neighbor’s, uncle’s, aunt’s, mom’s, or anyone else’s medication and do not allow anyone to prescribe their medications to you. Only your doctor can diagnose and prescribe medications for you. Consult with your pharmacist for over-the-counter recommendations and about any other questions you have regarding any of your medications.

The purpose of the medication section of this guide is to give you general counseling on the medications you could be taking, and information on some possible side effects or drug interactions as if you were getting counseling from your pharmacist at the pharmacy counseling window. This is not a complete list of all side effects and drug interactions available in the literature but the most common ones that may affect you. Knowing and interpreting the more extensive and technical information should only be the burden and responsibility of health professionals.

Any time you feel something is “not right” when it comes to taking any medication, or if your pills look different from the ones you have been taking, or if you have any other concern, contact your pharmacist or doctor and discuss that matter with them before taking any action. The medications you are taking for diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, or any other purpose will not take over your body and will not be addictive. Each group of medications works in different ways to control the condition from which your body is suffering. Once you stop taking the medication, it slowly leaves your body, and so does its protective benefit.

In some cases, chronic diseases such as blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease can be reversible if they were a result of poor lifestyle choices, such as obesity, inactivity, and smoking. If these lifestyles are changed for the better, the weight is lost, and more favorable choices are made by each and every one of us. However, any decisions about stopping, starting your medications, or changing your dosage should always be made by your doctor, not you. But even if you remain on medications for your chronic condition permanently, and most likely you will, then this is a good thing because those medications will save your life if taken as prescribed.