Tribune Print Share Text

Do your medicines work against each other?

Created date

April 22nd, 2014
exploding pills
exploding pills

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), more than two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries 65 and older have two or more chronic conditions. To manage these diseases, they see between 4 and 14 physicians, on average.

Very often, people walk out of those doctor’s offices with at least one prescription in hand. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that over 75% of seniors take two or more prescription medicines and over 35% take five or more. As age goes up, that number increases. Taking several medications can cause problems such as dizziness, falls, delirium, and fatigue.

Studies highlight problems 

A new study by Oregon State University and Yale University found yet another problem—20% of seniors were taking a drug for one condition that worked against another and made one or more of their medical conditions worse. The study participants—a nationally representative sample of older adults, both men and women—were taking medicines for common conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, arthritis, and dementia-related illnesses. An example: People with coronary heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may take a beta blocker for their heart, but some types of beta blockers can worsen COPD because they cause airway resistance.

The researchers say that this type of conflict occurs fairly often and some doctors may be aware of it but still don’t change their treatment plan. In fact, in the study, upon discovering a medication conflict, only 16% of doctors changed the medicine. 

One reason for this practice is that the benefit of one medicine can sometimes outweigh the risk of the other. According to researchers, another reason is that there isn’t enough information available to help doctors find alternatives. This problem affects millions of seniors in the U.S., and more studies need to be done to evaluate how often it happens, and to come up with ways to treat multiple medical conditions without prescribing competing medications.