The Dangers of Poly Pharmacy

The statistics are in and it seems many seniors are suffering the effects of polypharmacy, which is when one is regularly prescribed multiple medications to take each day for a myriad of conditions, but the medications may be harmful when taken together.

Certainly as we pass the age of 55 we seem to accumulate medications every few years for newly arising conditions—cholesterol, hypertension, arthritis, depression, diabetes, asthma, and many more conditions which can present later in life.

This means the vast majority of people in their 60’s (according to one survey 83%) take more than five prescribed medications daily, and this can present problems.

The problem is not the quantity of medications taken, but rather:

  • The cost of filling multiple prescriptions each month is prohibitive, and most seniors are not qualified to guess which medication they can safely go without.
  • How the medications interact. For example one medication may take your blood pressure down, while another has the side effect of raising blood pressure. In effect the senior is paying large amounts in money and health impacts for drugs which cancel each other out.
  • Excessive or unnecessary medications increases the risk of adverse drug effects such as falls,  cognitive impairment, or the risk of one medication worsening another existing condition.
  • Ingesting medication leaves its mark on one’s liver and/or kidneys, and taking excessive medications can push these organs into disease or failure.
  • A medication which used to work well no longer does because one has developed a resistance to the medication, or one has developed a new condition for which the medication is not recommended.

So how can one save themselves from the dangers of polypharmacy? The simplest way is to ask a doctor or pharmacist for a “Clinical Medication Review”. This review will look at the medications themselves for adverse side effects; how the medications may interact, and if the patient is adhering to the right schedule when taking their medication.

This review should include identification of actual and potential medication related issues, and                    recommendations for the patient moving forward, whether that be changing, reducing, or cutting out certain medications so the patient gets as much benefit as possible without harmful side effects or overburdening their bodies ability to process the medications.

We need to request a medication review because most GPs are overworked, particularly over the last few years, and they may not have had the time to realise that one medication on your list may be interacting negatively with another, creating unpredictable side effects and increasing risks to ones health.

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