A growing number of people in the US—especially older adults—are taking multiple prescription and over-the-counter medicines and supplements at the same time. But taking all of those medicines and supplements—some of which may not be needed—can increase the risk of side effects and dangerous drug interactions. It’s important to make sure that you are taking only what is necessary. Read on to learn more.
What’s behind the increase?
The number of people between the ages of 62 and 85 who are taking prescription medications is increasing. And so is the number of people taking more than 5 medications and supplements—a practice known as polypharmacy. Researchers point to two possible drivers of this increase. One is that some people are receiving care from more than one healthcare provider and those providers may not be aware of the medicines and supplements that have been prescribed or recommended by their peers. The other is that people don’t always tell their providers (and providers don’t always ask) about their use of supplements and over-the-counter medications.
Problems caused by taking too many medicines
Taking too many medicines can lead to a number of issues, including:
- An increased risk of side effects
- Drug interactions
- Urinary incontinence
- An increased risk of falls
- Trouble thinking or concentrating
- Poor nutrition
- Trouble performing regular daily activities
- Higher healthcare costs
In addition, the more medicines a person takes, the less likely he or she is to take them as prescribed. In fact, the majority of people who take medicines for chronic diseases stop taking them or take less than was prescribed after 6 months—for reasons including having to manage multiple medicines with different dosing schedules. This can lead to worsening of the disease, hospitalizations, treatment failure, and adverse events.
Steps to make sure you’re not taking medicines or supplements you don’t need
Whether you take prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, supplements, or a combination of these, it’s important to work with all of your healthcare providers to make sure that you take only what is necessary for you. Here are tips to help you get started:
- Select one healthcare provider (for example, your primary care doctor) to coordinate your care with all of your other providers.
- Keep a list of all of the medicines you take, including prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, and supplements. Consider using a medication tracker to help you stay on top of your medicines. And be sure to share the list with all your healthcare providers so that they know what you are taking.
- Ask your healthcare provider why he or she has prescribed a medicine (or medicines) for you. For example, ask if it is to treat a medical condition, how to take it properly, and how long you need to take it.
- Ask your healthcare providers for a review of everything you take. Bring all of your medicines (prescription, over-the-counter medicines, supplements, herbal products) to your next appointment with your healthcare provider. It’s best to keep them in their original containers. He or she can review them to help determine that all medicines are necessary and can be taken together.
- Ask your pharmacist any questions you may have about the medicines and supplements you are taking. If you have questions about the medicine you’ve been prescribed or are thinking of taking, ask!
If you need to take multiple medicines, consider enrolling in a medication synchronization program to simplify your refills so you can pick up all your medications on a single visit. Also, talk to your pharmacist about ways to help reduce medication errors.
If you or someone you know experiences a serious reaction to a medicine, please contact your healthcare provider and report it to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by calling 1-800-FDA-1088 or by visiting www.fda.gov/safety/medwatch/default.htm.
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