“Polypharmacy May Be Hurting You”

One of my pet peeves is that patients are being prescribed too many medications simultaneously, which is a situation called “polypharmacy.” Polypharmacy is described as taking five or more medications daily. One survey found that more than 50% of female Medicare beneficiaries took five or more medications daily, with 12% taking 10 or more daily. Patients have suffered from a largely hidden epidemic of side effects from drugs that usually have few offsetting benefits. A major challenge in developed countries is the increasing number of patients with multiple (two or more) chronic conditions. Multiple chronic conditions are seen most often in those aged over 65 years. A recent survey among older adults in 11 countries reported the high rates of multiple conditions, such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, lung problems, mental health problems, cancer and/or joint pain and arthritis. As a result, older adults are likely to be prescribed multiple medications (polypharmacy) and utilize more healthcare, at a higher cost. Polypharmacy and potentially inappropriate medications in older individuals are associated with adverse drug events, death, impaired physical and cognitive function, falls, and hospitalization. Approximately 53% of over-65s in the United States and 42% in Canada take four or more prescription drugs. Many over-65s take five or more prescription drugs, and this rate is increasing.

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