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Am I taking too many medications?

Medications can improve the lives of people suffer from chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, mental illness and chronic pain. However, taking too many prescription medications can be risky.

Taking more than five medications is called polypharmacy.  The risk of harmful effects, drug interactions and hospitalizations increase when you take more medications.

  • 2 out of 3 Canadians (66%) over the age of 65 take at least 5 different prescription medications.
  • 1 out of 4 Canadians (27%) over the age of 65 take at least 10 different prescription medications (CIHI 2018).

 

ALWAYS CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR, PHARMACIST OR NURSE BEFORE CHANGING OR STOPPING ANY OF YOUR MEDICATIONS.

 Side effects and harmful effects

Harmful effects of medication can include:

 

Who is most at risk OF harmful effects of medication?

1. People with multiple chronic conditions

People with multiple chronic conditions often take lots of medications to manage each disease. Taking lots of medications for multiple chronic conditions, increases the risk of harmful effects because of:

  • Drug-drug interactions: medications may have unpredictable effects when they interact with each other. 
  • Drug-disease interactions: medications may have unpredictable effects on another disease a person has.

Sometimes, additional medications are prescribed to counteract the harmful effects of existing medications, which can exacerbate the problem. This is called the prescribing cascade.

 

2. Women

Women are more likely to be prescribed risky medication and are more susceptible to harmful effects of medication.

 Women and medications

This is because:

  • Women have a longer life expectancy
  • Women are diagnosed with more chronic conditions
  • Women take more medication
  • Female biology and physiology increase the risk of harmful effects of medication
 

3. People over the age of 65

People over the age of 65 often manage multiple chronic conditions and take multiple medications to control their symptoms.

Unfortunately, in 2016, 1 in 143 Canadian seniors were hospitalized due to harmful effects of their medication (CIHI 2018). Seniors are hospitalized five times more often than people under the age of 65 because of harmful medication effects (CIHI 2013).

This is because, as we get older:

  • The brain becomes more sensitive to drug effects
  • Medications stay longer in our body because we have less muscle and more body fat
  • Our liver and kidneys do not process medications as efficiently as when we were younger
  • Our body contains less water and medications can become more concentrated
 Senior woman and medications

What can I do?

Read these two articles that detail safety tips on how to manage your medications:

9 Quick Safety Tips to Manage Your Medications

5 (More) Quick Safety Tips to Manage Your Medications

Read more strategies to safely manage your medications

 

Please consult your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before stopping or changing any medication.