What You Need to Know About Polypharmacy

What You Need to Know About Polypharmacy

Post Date: Nov 25, 2020
Medical, Pharmacy

About half of Americans today take at least one prescription drug, and 12 percent of Americans take five or more prescriptions per day. While it's important for patients to be treated appropriately for their ailments with medications, taking too many prescriptions at once has the potential to cause problems. As you can imagine, the more medications you take, the higher risk you are for adverse reactions or overdose. According to US Pharmacist, patients taking five to nine medications have a 50 percent chance of an adverse drug interaction. Health Research Funding reports that adverse drug interactions account for nearly 30 percent of all hospital admissions, making them the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. That's why polypharmacy has become such a hot topic in health care recently.

What is Polypharmacy?

Polypharmacy is defined as the simultaneous use of multiple drugs – typically five or more. And while taking a number of medications can be done safely, polypharmacy is a concern because your risk of adverse effects increases with higher numbers of medications.

While there's an inherent danger in taking several medications at once, problems can become even more likely due to human error. Imagine being prescribed seven different medications, each taken at different times of the day and different frequencies. It wouldn't take much to forget to take one or take too much of another, putting you at risk for an adverse interaction. Add any level of cognitive impairment, and it's even harder to get it right.

Not to mention, the cost of all of these prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and supplements can add up for patients.

Who's at Risk?

Though issues related to polypharmacy can affect anyone, some people are at higher risk for adverse effects. Polypharmacy is particularly prevalent among older populations because they're more likely to have multiple chronic health conditions requiring medication. In fact, people over age 65 make up 13 percent of the population, but they use 30 percent of all prescription medications.

However, polypharmacy does occur with young people as well – especially those with chronic pain, developmental disabilities, and mental health conditions

Other risk factors can include:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Frailty
  • Lack of a primary care physician
  • Multiple chronic conditions (e.g., pain conditions, diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, cancer)
  • Residing in a long-term care facility
  • Seeing multiple subspecialists

How to Prevent Risk of Adverse Reactions

If your health requires you to take several medications simultaneously, there are some things you can do to prevent your risk of adverse drug interactions.

Watch out for symptoms. Symptoms of adverse drug reactions can include dizziness, fatigue, diarrhea, hallucination, and confusion, falls, depression, and anxiety. Unfortunately, these can be difficult to identify if they're similar to symptoms of the disease you're treating in the first place, or simply signs of aging. Regardless, tell your doctor if you're experiencing any symptoms that are out of the ordinary.

Regularly update your list of medications. Make sure each of your providers has a complete, up-to-date list of all medications you're taking, including the dosage, frequency, and timing. Don't forget to include over-the-counter medicines, supplements, and vitamins.

Ask your pharmacist for help. Before buying an over-the-counter medication or supplement, ask your pharmacist if it's safe to take with your other medications. You can also request a medication review from your primary care physician. Periodically ask your doctor or pharmacist to review all of your medications and supplements. The easiest way to do this is to bring all of your medications to your doctor's appointment to evaluate.

If you're concerned about your medications and would like to have a doctor review them, contact your nearest CHP clinic today. Our pharmacists and doctors are happy to assist you.