Question: What are the risks of taking numerous medications?
Dr. Brownstein's Answer:
A recent article in the Cochrane for Clinicians review was titled, “Appropriate Use of Polypharmacy for Older Patients.” Polypharmacy is current use of four or more medications by a patient.
The authors were trying to answer the question, “Which interventions can help physicians manage polypharmacy in older patients?” Initially, I thought I’d read the headline incorrectly. Did they really mean to use the word “appropriate”?
They concluded that interventions that address polypharmacy decrease inappropriate prescribing and medication-related problems in people 65 years and older. But it is not clear if they reduce hospital admissions or improve quality of life.
Personally, I think the headline of this article should have been, “Inappropriate Use of
Polypharmacy for Older Patients.” When I was a hospital resident, I always took patient histories. One of the questions I would ask was: “What medications are you taking?” Very often, I would learn that an elderly patient was being prescribed numerous medications that
were all adversely interacting with one another.
Although I no longer practice medicine in a hospital, I still encounter many elderly patients who have been overprescribed with drugs. The risk of adverse drug reactions increases with each drug prescribed. A recent study found that for elderly patients, the risk of adverse events was directly related to the number of prescription medications taken.
In fact, the risk of adverse events increased 13 percent with two medications, 58 percent with five medications, and 82 percent with seven medications.
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