Medication discontinuation is the ceasing of a medication treatment for a patient by either the clinician or the patient themself. When initiated by the clinician, it is known as deprescribing. Medication discontinuation is an important medical practice that may be motivated by a number of reasons:
- Reducing polypharmacy
- Reducing health expenditure
- Improving quality of life by ceasing medications with potential adverse effects or where the indication for a medical treatment may have changed
- Reflect changes in evidence that support a treatment
- Reflecting changes in treatment goals, such as a move to end-of-life care.
Unlike the prescribing of medications, appropriate discontinuation has not attracted nearly as much attention or interest.
Medications may be stopped in the context of end-of-life care, such as medications that may affect risk factors for future disease. Medications that may be stopped as part of discussions about end-of-life care include antihypertensives, medications for diabetes, and drugs for high cholesterol.
Drug discontinuation may cause rebound effects (return of the symptoms the drug relieved, and that, to a degree stronger than they were before treatment first began) and withdrawal syndromes (symptoms caused by the discontinuation by the drug itself).
Drug discontinuation may be difficult to adjust to, owing to the long term use and the symbolism associated with ceasing medications, such as the decision to stop chemotherapy.
Recent research (Nixon & Vendelø, 2016) shows that General Practitioners (GPs) who actively consider discontinuation, are reluctant to do so, as they experience that the safest decision is to continue prescriptions, rather than discontinue them. In part this is due to the ambiguity about the appropriateness of discontinuing medication. The clinical guidelines available to GPs do not encourage discontinuation of medication, and thus, they offer GPs a weak frame for discontinuation.
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- Nixon, Michael; Kousgaard, Marius Brostrøm (7 July 2016). “Organising medication discontinuation: a qualitative study exploring the views of general practitioners toward discontinuing statins”. BMC Health Services Research. 16 (1). doi:10.1186/s12913-016-1495-2.
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