Chicago Health | Homepage
What you need to know if you’re taking multiple medications

What you need to know if you’re taking multiple medications

Harvard Health Letters

Taking several types of medications can be challenging. But this is something you have to get right. If you don’t, you may have unwanted side effects, or you may not properly treat your chronic condition. “I see people who average 15 medications, and it’s very difficult for them to juggle that many pills,” says Joanne Doyle Petrongolo, a pharmacist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Juggling act

Polypharmacy — defined as taking five or more medications (including prescription medications, over-the-counter products, and herbal supplements) or taking more medications than medically necessary — comes with a number of risks. Chief among them are harmful drug interactions. “As the number of medications increases, the potential for drug interactions goes up, and there’s an increased potential for side effects that can lead to emergency room visits and hospitalizations. For example, if you take several blood pressure medications, you may develop low blood pressure that could cause you to faint and be hospitalized,” says Doyle Petrongolo.

Polypharmacy also makes it tough to tell if a particular drug is causing a side effect. For example, you may suspect that one of your medications is causing unsteadiness, fatigue, or insomnia, but you’ll have to do some detective work to figure out which one is the culprit.

Other risks include trouble taking your medications as prescribed, because the regimen may be too confusing to follow; unnecessary drug expenses; and avoidable hospitalizations.

Seeking help

If you’re having side effects, Doyle Petrongolo urges you to contact your doctor’s office. And if you’re having a hard time managing your drug regimen, she suggests that you talk to your pharmacist. “Don’t wait until you are drowning in a sea of pills. We can provide medication counseling and make recommendations to improve your regimen. For example, a pharmacist’s recommendation may enable you to take different or fewer medications,” she says. “You may be able to decrease your pill burden or save money.”

Tips to succeed

  • Every time you have a new prescription filled, ask your pharmacist what the drug is used for, how and when to take it with other medications, and whether it will interact with other medications. Get to know the look of a pill, and talk to your pharmacist if a new batch looks different. Doyle Petrongolo also suggests that you get all of your prescriptions filled at one pharmacy. “The pharmacist will be able to run a drug interaction check on your medications and will know if doctors are prescribing conflicting medications,” she says.
  • To manage medications, start with an up-to-date list that includes what each medication is used for, the proper strength, and dosing instructions. That will be helpful if you forget or if a family member helps you with your regimen.
  • Use a pillbox with multiple compartments, such as breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime. Pillboxes are available as simple plastic boxes that you fill each week or high-tech electronic dispensers, complete with alarms and reminders sent to your smartphone. Your pharmacy may also offer a handy dispensing method, known as bubble packing, which packages single doses of several medications in one plastic pack.
  • If you’re tech-savvy, tablet and smartphone apps can remind you to take your medications and can even track your adherence.

“One tool isn’t necessarily better than another. It’s best to assess the specific needs of the patient to choose the best medication management system,” says Doyle Petrongolo.

It’s crucial to tell your pharmacist or physician if you take over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, or herbs. “They increase the overall pill burden, and some of these products may interact with prescription medications,” warns Joanne Doyle Petrongolo.

For example, ginseng, ginger, ginkgo biloba and garlic can increase the potential of bleeding, especially if taken with the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin). St. John’s wort can interact with antidepressants like fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil). Calcium supplements can interact with thyroid medications like levothyroxine (Synthroid) and decrease their effectiveness.

Ask a pharmacist about interactions before starting any new nonprescription drugs. And remember to either bring a list of your medications and supplements to your annual doctor appointment, or simply bring the actual pill bottles with you.

(C) 2016. PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLGE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Similar Articles

Can you be held responsible for your parents’ long-term-care costs?

Can you be held responsible for your parents’ long-term-care costs?

By Eleanor Laise, Kiplinger Retirement Report When an older adult racks up unpaid long-term-care bills, who's

Rare syndrome causes overly flexible joints, fragile skin

Rare syndrome causes overly flexible joints, fragile skin

Mayo Clinic Q&A DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I was recently diagnosed with vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. My doctor

Calcium is crucial for long-term bone health

Calcium is crucial for long-term bone health

Mayo Clinic Q&A DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Should all postmenopausal women take calcium supplements to prevent osteoporosis,

De-stress your life

De-stress your life

By Sandra Block, Kiplinger Personal Finance How stressed-out are we? Consider this: In some cities, "rage

Beyond Opioids: New guidelines offer safest ways to control pain

Beyond Opioids: New guidelines offer safest ways to control pain

By Cleveland Clinic's Chronic Conditions Team In the past, if you had minor surgery or an

Articles By Category

Family Health

In The Know

CH Lifestyle

January 2017
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
December 25, 2016 December 26, 2016 December 27, 2016 December 28, 2016 December 29, 2016 December 30, 2016 December 31, 2016
January 1, 2017 January 2, 2017 January 3, 2017 January 4, 2017 January 5, 2017 January 6, 2017 January 7, 2017
January 8, 2017 January 9, 2017 January 10, 2017 January 11, 2017 January 12, 2017 January 13, 2017 January 14, 2017
January 15, 2017 January 16, 2017 January 17, 2017 January 18, 2017 January 19, 2017 January 20, 2017 January 21, 2017
January 22, 2017 January 23, 2017 January 24, 2017 January 25, 2017 January 26, 2017 January 27, 2017 January 28, 2017
January 29, 2017 January 30, 2017 January 31, 2017 February 1, 2017 February 2, 2017 February 3, 2017 February 4, 2017

Categories

Recent Comments

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Enjoy a great night of baseball at Peoples Natural

VIEW ARTICLE
Cost to give birth 1943 - Page 3 - Defending The Truth Political Forum

Cost to give birth 1943 - Page 3 - Defending The Truth Political Forum

A Hazy Shade of Healthcare: What does tort reform

VIEW ARTICLE

Archives