What is Polypharmacy and Why You Need to be Concerned About It
A relative wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) adjusts his protective face shield before the cremation of a man who died due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a crematorium in New Delhi. (Reuters)
You may have never heard of the term polypharmacy but with the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be even more relevant now. Polypharmacy is defined as the regular or daily use of at least five medications. The most significant cause of polypharmacy is multimorbidity, meaning the presence of multiple medical conditions or diseases.
Multiple diseases, multiple medications
Multimorbidity, though more common among the elderly, is now showing up more frequently in young people too - mostly thanks to the obesity epidemic and related health issues which are plaguing younger adults, teenagers and even children. This multimorbidity leads to the prescription of multiple medications at the same time, which in turn leads to overmedication and a number of health risks.
A recent study published in Plos One indicates that multimorbidity and polypharmacy are associated with a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 infection. But that’s not all, because if you are an older adult who has had a heart failure episode and survived, the likelihood of you being sent home with at least 10 different medications is likely. A new study published in Circulation: Heart Failure says that such a prescription of 10 or more medications poses serious health risks for heart patients as well.
What polypharmacy does to the body
Polypharmacy is a type of inappropriate use of medications. It mostly happens when a person refers to many subspecialists but does not have any primary physician who keeps a check on how many medications the patient may be on at the same time and what effects their interactions might have. Not keeping proper medical records and presenting them to your doctor at every visit may also lead to polypharmacy.
Polypharmacy inevitably leads to adverse reactions, dependency, disability and more hospital visits. You may face increased lethargy, signs of reactions on your skin or the digestive system, changes in your mood as the medications interact with different organ systems. What it ultimately leads to is more illness and non-adherence to prescribed medications (some that may be absolutely vital to your health) due to the adverse reactions.
How to prevent polypharmacy
Preventing polypharmacy can not only help you get better healthcare but also reduce the risks of many other health problems and it hinges on just one thing: being open to your doctor. You need to know your own medical history and consult a doctor about the medications you have been prescribed by specialists. A 2016 study in Today’s Geriatric Medicine suggests the following can be done by your primary care physician to reduce the risk of polypharmacy:
- Conducting medication reconciliations while your care is being transitioned from one specialist to the other
- Taking stock of all prescribed medications and eliminating duplicate prescriptions by two or more doctors
- Assessing drug interactions, possible reactions and suggesting substitutes with the help of specialists
- Reviewing prescribed dosages of various medications to ensure safe interactions and avoid reactions
All of these methods can ensure patient safety, reduce further hospitalizations and also decrease associated costs of too many medications, hospital or specialist visits, etc. Being aware of polypharmacy and taking appropriate preventive steps against it can ensure your quality of life and better healthcare.
For more information, read our article on Heart disease.
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