A common class of drugs linked to ER visits

Created date

March 15th, 2017
Emergency room sign at hospital entrance

Certain drug classes have been associated with increased emergency room visits and inpatient admissions by seniors, among them antidiabetics, anticoagulants, and antihistamines.  

A team of researchers has added another drug class to this list as the result of a recent study published in the journal Pharmacotherapy. These drugs are called anticholinergics. They are commonly used by almost half of seniors in the U.S. for a number of reasons, including incontinence, insomnia, allergies, pain, anxiety, and depression. Some anticholinergics are available over the counter, and several combination medications (both prescription and over the counter) contain an anticholinergic as an ingredient.

In several previous studies, anticholinergics have been shown to be associated with cognitive problems, including memory loss. Strong anticholinergics have been found to cause these problems in as few as 60 days.

Relation to hospital admissions

For the current study, the researchers evaluated medication data from over 3,000 study participants, and developed a scale to measure how the strength of the anticholinergic was associated with inpatient admissions.

The study results found people taking mild anticholinergics were 11% more likely to be admitted to a hospital over the period of a year. People who were taking strong anticholinergics were 33% more likely to be admitted as an inpatient over the same period. 

The researchers say that people taking anticholinergics need to talk with their doctor about the possible effects, and discuss whether it is possible to modify their medication regimens.