The tsunami of Polypharmacy
Posted on 27th July 2022 at 07:32
Earlier this month we looked at how taking prescription medication seems to have become the norm for all too many people – and not just those of more mature years (!). Sadly, this can become a rather slippery slope, with one medication all too quickly becoming two, three or many more. You can find the post here.
The prescription of multiple medications is known as “Polypharmacy” with “poly” meaning many and “pharmacy” meaning drugs. While the dangers of overprescribing medications are well known, there is no single definition of how many drugs is too many. Definitions range from two or more to eleven or more being taken each day, with five or more seeming to be the general rule of thumb.
It’s easy to see how Polypharmacy can, often unwittingly, cause so many problems particularly as it’s usually a sign of several long term – chronic – health conditions. While, not surprisingly, the elderly are more at risk increasing numbers of younger people – including children – are now affected, particularly with the increase in Lifestyle Diseases. Diabetes. Heart Disease and Hypertension. Cholesterol. Obesity. And many more.
Added to this, the madness of the last couple of years has led to a huge increase in the number of prescriptions written, as many health services were unavailable during that time. However, as life returned to normal, many of these prescriptions have continued even though circumstances may have changed for many people or more appropriate solutions / support have become available.
While Polypharmacy tends to only look at prescriptions drugs, it’s often forgotten that OTC – Over the Counter – products have consequences too. Whether it’s a painkiller – such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen – indigestion relief – such as Gaviscon or Rennie – any substance taken regularly can interact with any others being taken AND have long term side effects.
And, as an aside, needing to take any OTC regularly is always a sign that a closer look is needed at what may be going on…
However, it doesn’t stop there. What about supplements, herbal products and other more natural products? While people tend to equate “natural” with “healthy” and “safe” this isn’t automatically the case, there can still be long term effects and interactions.
Once you start to count up all the different medications – whether prescribed or OTC – supplements and other products being taken each day, it’s very easy for someone to exceed the “five or more” rule of thumb. Perhaps it applies to you too?
Having talked to many Clients over the years, we’re always surprised by how little people seem to know about ANY of the medications and supplements they’re taking. And this doesn’t just apply to prescription medications. Why they’re taking a particular medication, let alone any interactions and possible side effects. That they should be regularly reviewed and re evaluated to see if any can be discontinued or another approach taken. Advice given of things they could do at home to help themselves, both before and after any prescription is written.
Sadly, all too often, their knowledge about OTC products is even more scant and, as it falls outside their Doctor’s direct control, is unlikely to be reviewed. Again, when we ask Clients why they’re taking a particular supplement or herbal product, the answer we most often hear is that they read an article saying that it was “good for” x, y or z. Rarely is the broader picture – “Is it the best thing for me?” – considered, let alone any possible interactions or side effects.
So where are we going with this?
Well, the most important thing is to make people aware of this potential issue. Whether or not you’re taking prescription medications, to be aware that OTC products have interactions and consequences too. To do a little research of your own and, ideally, take professional advice about your health concerns and whether this is the best approach for you.
And, if you need a warning sign that trouble may be brewing, here are a few simple ones.
The first is a new health condition developing after starting to take any medication or OTC product. Often these are the result of side effects or interactions which can, all too easily, be overlooked as another medication is prescribed – or OTC bought – to address them.
Next is if you’re in the high risk group for over prescription. Of more mature years (!) or with multiple chronic health conditions.
Another high risk group are those with private medical care or insurance, where the likelihood of seeing different Doctors, all prescribing different medication, is much greater. All too often, each is unaware of what other colleagues are doing.
Finally, if you’re having trouble keeping up with your different mediations. What needs to be taken and when.
We know we’ve said it many times before, but the only person responsible for our own health is us. Not our Doctor or other healthcare professional. It’s up to each of us to make informed decisions about ANY proposed course of treatment and whether it’s the best approach for us. And this applies whether it’s a prescribed medication or a product we buy off the shelf. There are always things that can be done at home to help ourselves – whether alongside or instead of any medication – but it’s up to us to find out about it and, more importantly, make it part of our everyday routine.
As always, the choice is yours.
Photograph by unknown author
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