Polypharmacy – technically defined as a medication regimen of five
or more drugs – touches all age groups in modern America. Surveys
say that a disturbingly number of U.S. seniors may be over-medicated.
As a rule, the older people get, the more specialists they need to see.
Why might polypharmacy – taking as many as 14 or more medicines
at once – cause problems? The fundamental risk is that drug interactions
(including those stimulated by over-the-counter medications) and accumulating
side effects can create primary and secondary health problems.
The number of drugs seniors take has increased in recent years. Last year,
a study published in
Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 39 percent of people over 65 take five or more medications,
a statistic that represents a 79 percent rise in polypharmacy over the
past 12 years.
Complicating the predicament, many seniors also take dietary supplements,
some of which can cause negative health effects and react adversely with
medications. For example, fish oil, a common nutritional supplement, can
produce bleeding in patients who take blood thinners. Since many people
don’t mention these herbs and alternative medicines to their doctors,
negative consequences can occur. In fact, some of the interactions can
According to Dr. Michael A. Steinman, a geriatrician at the University
of California, San Francisco, who wrote a commentary that accompanied
the study, overhauling the fragmented approach to health care presents
the best way to prevent dangerous polypharmacy. In the meantime, patients
who fear that they are taking too many medications or that their medications
may be leading to unexpected consequences should bring their pills to
their doctors for a thorough assessment.
To learn more about medication safety, see
Preventing Medication Errors by Reconcilation: Does your Hospital/Nursing
Home Do This?
For help with a potential case, call our
D.C. medical malpractice attorneys for a private consultation.