THURSDAY, Nov. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Barely a week goes by, it
seems, without some company announcing a new pill designed to help
you live a longer, healthier life.
Medication can, indeed, do a lot toward curing, preventing or
easing many ills. But taking a fistful of pills each day creates
its own set of medical risks, prompting concern among a growing
number of physicians and pharmacists that people are simply taking
too many medications for their own good.
"As you keep increasing the amount of prescriptions, that increases the chance of having a drug interaction or major side effect," said Sophia De Monte, a pharmacist in Nesconset, N.Y., and a spokeswoman for the American Pharmacists Association. "It's exponential. The more you add on, the more chance you'll have something bad happen."
It's a concept called polypharmacy, the use of more medications
than someone actually needs. And that means not just prescription
drugs but also over-the-counter medications and dietary
The average American is prescribed medication about 13 times a
year, according to a report last year by the Kaiser Family
Foundation. But the likelihood of polypharmacy increases as people
age. Studies have found that seniors make up 13 percent of the
population but account for 30 percent of all drug prescriptions.
When elderly patients transfer from hospitals to nursing homes for
rehabilitation, it is common for caregivers to have to keep track
of nine or more prescribed medications for each person, according
to a long-term care report.
The more medications people take, the more likely it is that
they'll experience a problem in three key areas, said De Monte and
Norman P. Tomaka, a pharmacist in Melbourne, Fla., including:
But though the trend has been toward more prescriptions, steps
are being taken to safeguard patients' health.
Doctors and pharmacists are working together to create systems
by which patients' prescription lists are reviewed, with an eye
toward minimizing the medications they take, De Monte said.
"The whole goal is to try to fine-tune it," she said, "working with the patient to get the best medication with the best effects at the minimal amount."
Researchers also are working on ways to combine drugs that work
well together into a single dose, reducing the number of pills
people have to keep track of as well as the risk for drug
interactions, Tomaka said.
"The history of HIV treatment is a good lesson in this," he said. "In the 1990s, most HIV patients took anywhere from six to 24 medication tablets. Sometimes there would be as many as 65. Today, it's thoroughly realistic that a patient will only have to take two pills a day."
In the meantime, De Monte and Tomaka suggested a few steps
people can take to make sure the multiple medications they are on
don't cause more problems than they cure:
In the end, dealing with polypharmacy entails some work on the
part of patients because only they know about their specific health
condition and how each medication makes them feel.
"Medications are tools," Tomaka said. "We have to get away from looking at drugs as anything other than a tool used to help repair a patient's body. The key is working with your physician on your specific condition and realizing that one size does not fit all."
The Institute for Safe Medication Practices has more on the
safe use of medications.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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