You take two pills for hypertension and another for osteoporosis. You use an inhaler to help you breathe better, a shot for diabetes and a pain reliever for arthritis. Even if you managed to keep them all straight—no small feat—your overall health could suffer.
About one in five older adults take a drug for one condition that may make another health issue worse, a troubling new study finds.
In other words, your breathing medication could further weaken thinning bones, or your pain reliever could counter the effects of your blood pressure medication. And, according to another study, as more adults of all ages take multiple meds, the danger will only rise.
What’s more, medications can also interact with food, supplements, or over-the-counter drugs. For instance, some medications aren’t absorbed as well when taken with food, can cause increased side effects when taken with grapefruit juice, or cause harm when combined with herbal supplements.
Rules for Your Remedies
Playing an active role in your medical care can help ensure your medicines promote, rather than tear down your health. Collaborate with your doctor and pharmacist by:
• Keeping an up-to-date list of all the medications you take. Don’t forget over-the-counter drugs and supplements. Keep a copy with you at all times. Ask your doctor(s) to review it at every visit.
• Filling all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy. This way, your pharmacist can keep an eye out and alert you of any dangerous drug combinations. Be sure to tell your pharmacist if you take any over-the-counter medications or supplements.
• Asking detailed questions. Each time your doctor suggests a new drug, find out what it’s for, how it works, and how to use it. Ask specifically if it should replace another drug you take. And double-check if it can cause harmful side effects when combined with your current medications or any food or drinks you consume.
• Reading and saving any printed material that comes with your medicines. Review directions, expiration dates, and any words of warning regularly.
“Are You Taking Medication as Prescribed?” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm164616.htm.
“Be An Active Member of Your Health Care Team.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. www.fda.gov/drugs/resourcesforyou/ucm079453.htm.
“Drug Interactions: What You Should Know.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. www.fda.gov/drugs/resourcesforyou/ucm163354.htm.
“Managing Your Medicines.” National Institute On Aging. www.nihseniorhealth.gov/takingmedicines/managingyourmedicines/01.html.
“Medicines: Use Them Safely. National Institute On Aging. www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/medicines.
“Multiple diseases and polypharmacy in the elderly: challenges for the internist of the third millennium.” Alessandro Nobili, et al. Journal of Comorbidity. jcomorbidity.com/index.php/test/article/viewFile/4/10.
“Potential Therapeutic Competition in Community-Living Older Adults in the U.S.: Use of Medications That May Adversely Affect a Coexisting Condition.” S. Jonathan Lorgunpai et al. PLOS ONE. 2014. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3934884/.
“Side Effects.” National Institute On Aging. www.nihseniorhealth.gov/takingmedicines/sideeffects/01.html.
“Stop—Learn—Go—Tips for Talking with Your Pharmacist to Learn How to Use Medicines Safely.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/ucm163330.htm.
“Taking Medicines Safely.” National Institute On Aging. www.nihseniorhealth.gov/takingmedicines/takingmedicinessafely/01.html.
“Use Medicines Safely.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, June 26, 2014. www.healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/everyday-healthy-living/safety/use-medicines-safely.
“Your Medicine: Questions To Ask Before Taking Medicine.” Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. archive.ahrq.gov/patients-consumers/diagnosis-treatment/treatments/safemeds/yourmedques.html