It’s easy to find yourself taking several different medications. Maybe you have an antihistamine you take to manage your allergies. A medication that keeps your anxiety under control. A statin that helps control your cholesterol levels. And now your orthopedist is recommending prescription-strength ibuprofen for your hip pain.
If you take multiple medications regularly or are on medications that aren’t necessary, you could be at risk for adverse reactions or drug interactions. You might also find it hard to take all your medications as prescribed. While it’s common for older adults to need multiple medications, younger people may need multiple medications, too. You’re at higher risk if you have:
- Multiple chronic medical problems
- A range of different specialists treating different conditions
- No primary care doctor helping to oversee your care
- Mental health conditions
- Limited insight into your medical problems
- A poor relationship with your doctor
The negative impact of multiple medications
You could face a few different problems if you’re taking several different medications. First, the active ingredients in different drugs can interact with each other. “Most people don’t realize that medications have adverse effects and contraindications,” said Anita Rasheed, MD, a geriatric medicine physician at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. “And over-the-counter medicines and herbal supplements can cause interactions, too.”
For example, certain combinations of drugs could slow your reaction times and make it dangerous to drive. Antacids might block some medications from being absorbed properly. And people who take combinations of medications that can help prevent heart attacks need to be aware of the risk of excessive bleeding.
Taking multiple medications can also impact your quality of life. It isn’t easy to keep track of different medications that you take on different dosing schedules. And multiple medications could make it more likely for you to fall, which can increase your risk of other health problems or even of dying prematurely.
Here’s how to manage multiple medications
All the different medications you take might be necessary—they might be essential for managing various health problems. Dr. Rasheed recommends following these steps to help minimize unnecessary medications and potential interactions:
- Use one pharmacy for all your prescriptions and tell the pharmacist about all the medications you take, including over the counter and herbal medications.
- If you start a new medication, review it with the pharmacist and your doctor for possible interactions and to make sure you’re using it properly. Have them review all your existing medications for possible interactions and to see if you’re taking another medication for the same condition. You want to avoid duplication.
- Read the drug label and check online resources. If you’re concerned about anything you find, talk to your doctor.
- If possible, use your primary care provider’s online portal to keep an up-to-date list of all your medications. And keep a printed copy or a list on your phone of all your medications, the dosages, the reason you take them, and for prescriptions, the doctor who prescribed them.
“For every medication you are taking, pause and identify why,” Dr. Rasheed said. If you don’t know why, talk to your doctor about whether it’s necessary.
It’s also important to have a deprescribing plan. Share your goals with your doctor. That way, you can make decisions together and put a plan in place for stopping some of your medications. Deprescribing makes it easier for you to manage the medications you do need, and it can save you money too.
The bottom line
You might need to take different medications to manage different health conditions. Review what you’re taking with your pharmacist and your health care provider to make sure everything is necessary and identify possible interactions.
Do you need a primary care provider who can help you manage your multiple medications? Visit bannerhealth.com to find an expert in your area.
To learn more about medication safety, check out these articles:
- Medication Safety Tips for Older Adults with Diabetes
- Is My Medication Safe? Securing & Disposing of Old Medicine
- Can You Overdose on Vitamins? Watch for These Symptoms