It seems like there is a pill for everything these days. For example, you can take medications for heartburn, headaches, muscle pain, and other health conditions.

Unfortunately, taking too much medication can lead to a dangerous condition called polypharmacy. If you are a CDPAP caregiver or currently on medication, it’s important to understand this condition.

Find out what polypharmacy is and who is most at risk. Also, discover how to treat and prevent polypharmacy.

Let’s begin by taking a closer look at what polypharmacy is.

What Is Polypharmacy?

Polypharmacy is the term used to describe people who are prescribed and take multiple medications. This includes both prescription and over-the-counter medicines and supplements, such as Tylenol and fish oil.   

You might take more than one medication and worry that you are suffering from polypharmacy. But, first, take a look at how many medications you have to take to meet the threshold for polypharmacy.

How Many Medications Is Considered Polypharmacy?

The medical community has yet to define the threshold for polypharmacy. However, many professionals agree that polypharmacy occurs when people take at least five medications regularly. Others state that people must take more than five medications regularly for polypharmacy to occur.

While anyone can suffer from polypharmacy, some people are at a higher risk. Find out if you’re in the risk group for polypharmacy.

Who Is at Risk for Polypharmacy?

The elderly population faces the highest risk for polypharmacy. This is mainly because many older adults manage chronic conditions. Often, doctors prescribe a cocktail of medications to treat chronic medical conditions, leading to overmedication.

Even younger people who are suffering from chronic conditions are at high risk for polypharmacy. Take Type 2 diabetes, for instance. If you were diagnosed with diabetes before 1995, your doctor prescribed:

·   Insulin

·   Sulfonylureas

Those were the only two options. However, additional medications have been developed. Now, doctors can prescribe medicines from five classes of oral agents. They can also prescribe other medications, such as:

·   Inhalers

·   Topical patches

Doctors often prescribe several of these medications to a single patient. They’ve discovered that this is often the most effective way to treat diabetes.

This is just one example of how doctors prescribe multiple medications to treat chronic conditions. You will see the same thing with other conditions, including hypertension.

When properly managed, the combination of medicines can reduce symptoms. However, it also increases the risk of polypharmacy.

The risk is even greater if you have multiple chronic conditions. Many people suffer from various conditions, such as:

·   Diabetes

·   Heart disease

·   Hypertension

·   Asthma

·   Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

If you have multiple conditions, you likely take mediation or a combination of medications for each one. One medication can quickly turn into five, six, or more.  

Because you take these medications to feel better, it can be hard to understand why it’s dangerous. Take a look at why polypharmacy is dangerous, so you’ll understand the importance of preventing it.

Why Is Polypharmacy Dangerous?

The more medications you take, the higher your risk of adverse reactions. You can react to the medication, or you can experience drug-drug interactions.

This is a potentially dangerous issue for everyone. However, people 65 and older are at the greatest risk for adverse interactions.

As you age, it becomes harder for your body to metabolize the medications you take. This makes you more sensitive to the medicine. The sensitivity can lead to adverse drug reactions.

Overmedication can also damage your liver. This is because the liver metabolizes almost all medications that you take. Therefore, overmedication can cause liver toxicity, leading to severe damage. It can even be fatal.

Polypharmacy can also lead to misdiagnoses. That, in turn, can cause doctors to prescribe even more medicine.

For instance, assume you are taking multiple drugs that are interacting with each other. The drug interactions lead to symptoms that can look like another chronic disease.

Your doctor misinterprets the drug symptoms and diagnoses you with another condition. Then, he or she prescribes new medicines to treat that condition. This can create a snowball effect that leads to you being on a dozen or more medicines, many of which you don’t need.

Because polypharmacy is so dangerous, it’s important to check for signs of overmedication.

What Are the Signs of Overmedication?

Your body has a way of letting you know when you are taking too much medicine. Common signs of overmedication include:

·   Falls

·   Confusion

·   Fatigue

·   Digestive problems

·   Weakness

·   Hallucinations

·   Anxiety

·   Dizziness

·   Jaundice

Keep in mind that you don’t need to have all of these symptoms to be diagnosed with polypharmacy. Even a single symptom could indicate that you suffer from this issue.

It’s also important to remember that the signs of overmedication can be mistaken for the aging process. For instance, confusion and fatigue usually occur when you grow older. However, if you notice a significant change, you could be overmedicated.

Is Polypharmacy a Diagnosis?

You might think that polypharmacy is just a word used to describe overmedication. However, it’s also an official diagnosis.

A medical professional will diagnose you and then treat the condition. Once you’re treated, you can prevent polypharmacy in the future.

Your doctor might diagnose polypharmacy after reviewing the medications that you take. He or she also might evaluate your symptoms before determining the diagnosis.

If you’ve been diagnosed with polypharmacy, you will need to undergo treatment. Find out how polypharmacy is treated, so you will know what to expect.

How Is Polypharmacy Treated?

Treating polypharmacy is a multi-step process aimed at simplifying your medication regimen. This begins by giving your doctor an accurate list of our medications.

You need to include prescription and over-the-counter medication you’re taking. Also, don’t forget to add supplements to your list.

After looking at your list of current medications, your doctor might:

·   Stop medications

·   Modify prescriptions

·   Change the treatment plan

Your doctor needs to know about missed doses and unfilled prescriptions, too. Both are signs that your medication regimen is too complicated.

Next, your physician needs to check for any drug-drug interactions with the medications you’re taking. Your doctor can then change the prescriptions as needed to lower the risk of interactions.

Checking drug-disease interactions is the next step in treating polypharmacy. If possible, your doctor will change your treatment plan to eliminate these interactions.

Determining if you’re being overtreated for your medical conditions is also essential. You could be taking two medications to treat hypertension when you only need one, for example. If this is the case, your doctor might choose to:

·   Adjust your dose

·   Taper you off one of the medications

·   Change medications to something more effective

Evaluating your medication list for high-risk drugs is also critical, especially if you are elderly. These medications include:

·   Sedatives

·   Opioids

·   Hypoglycemics

Education plays a critical role during this stage of treatment. Your doctor will talk to you about dangerous over-the-counter medications and help you with symptom relief without taking high-risk drugs.

This takes you to the next stage: a review of your over-the-counter supplements. Your doctor might sign off on some supplements while having you stop others. During this stage of treatment, your physician will also:

·   Educate you on supplements and interactions

·   Reduce the number of supplements you take

Finally, your doctor will discuss ways you can prevent polypharmacy from reoccurring.

How Can Polypharmacy Be Prevented?

You, your doctor, and your caregiver will play vital roles in preventing polypharmacy. Your doctor will take special care when prescribing medications. He or she will manage your medications to prevent dangerous interactions.

Now, let’s look at the role your caregiver will play in protecting you.

Caregivers and Polypharmacy Prevention

If you have a caregiver, he or she can help you prevent polypharmacy. Your caregiver needs to maintain an up-to-date list of your medications.

This includes the:

·   Prescription and over-the-counter medications

·   Dosage

·   Administration schedule

Your caregiver should bring the list to each doctor’s appointment. It’s also important that the caregiver updates the list if any changes are made.

You can also play a vital role in your care by using a medication management device.

Medication Management Devices to Prevent Polypharmacy

Because treating polypharmacy is about simplifying medication routines, your doctor also might discuss medication management devices. Automatic pill dispensers are an effective tool for preventing polypharmacy. You can purchase one of these devices to stay on top of your medication schedule.

You are less likely to double or triple your dosages if you use such a device. In addition, you’ll discover your medication routine is much easier to follow, and that will help you prevent polypharmacy in the future.

Take a Proactive Approach to Preventing Polypharmacy

If you think that you are currently overmedicated, consult with your doctor. Then, take an active role in preventing polypharmacy in the future. Work with your caregiver if you have one, and use a medication management device to simplify the process.

Also, be mindful of the signs of overmedication. If you notice any of these signs, consult with a physician at once. The longer you continue to take too much medication, the greater the risk of a serious health problem.

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