The Dangers of Polypharmacy
Note: Never stop taking a medication without permission from your physican.
Your cardiologist prescribed you a medication; your endocrinologist prescribed you a medication; your general practitioner prescribed you a medication. How do you know if all of these prescriptions go together? Are over-the-counter (OTC)?medications safe to take?
Polypharmacy is generally defined as “a medication count of five or more medications.” Taking multiple medications as we age is common; some of our systems need a little extra help or we have extra aches and pains. It is important to be up-to-date with how your medications combine and what you can do to keep yourself safe.
When a drug enters the body from say, an oral route, it is immediately pushed through the GI?sytem and absorbed by the small intestines. From the intestines, the medication is distributed in the blood stream; it is then metabolized by the liver and excreted by the kidneys.
When a medication is absorbed into the blood stream it binds with protein. Once protein bound, it becomes ineffective. The medication that does not bind to proteins is the active medication that treats the body. If two highly-protein bound medications are taken together then the meds will fight for spots on the protein causing an imbalanced distribution of the medication; this can lead to problems.
Issues that can occur due to polypharmacy include: cognitive impairment, falls, incontinence, and nutritional status.
So how do you keep yourself safe?
Inform all of your physicians of your medications; whether they’re generic or brand-name; the dosage; frequency; and any adverse reactions you experience with it.
Use the same pharmacy for all your medication; your pharmicist will alert you to any incompatibilities to a medication.
Check with your physician or pharmacist to make sure your medications are safe with over-the-counter medications. Some OTC meds have effects that are lesser known by the general population. For example: NSAIDS?(ibuprofen, naproxen) have blood thinning effects.
While the internet is a great resource to find out information about your medications, it is not the expert- your pharmacist and doctor are. Do not use the internet to decide whether or not you are going to continue to take a medication. Once again, never stop taking a medication without the permission of your doctor.
Ask whether or not you can consume alcohol. Some medications are harsh on the liver as that is where it is metabolized. Alcohol is also metabolized by the liver. If the liver is overloaded it can start to fail. Examples: acetamenophen (Tylenol) and alcohol do not play well together.
Do ask questions. It is okay to take up your pharmacist’s and physican’s time in order to fully understand your own health. Ask why you need the medication; what side effects of a medication are; ask how your medications work together.
While one of the best parts of living in the world we live in is easy access to health care and medication; it is important to stay consistent with physicians and pharmacists. If you have trouble remembering whether or not you took your medication make sure to discuss this with your physician. A “pill-minder” can also be useful in dividing your medications for daily consumption.