Are there side effects to taking multiple medicines together? Find out why

Polypharmacy: It means when a person takes five or more prescription medicines in a day. It may help control various health issues, but taking them together can cause more harm than good.

Popping multiple pills every day to manage a multitude of health conditions is a reality for many people in the country. While the disease itself is a big problem, taking various medicines that may react with each other and cause adverse effects is even more worrisome.

Medically recognised as “Polypharmacy”, it means when a person takes five or more prescription medicines in a day. While the medication may help control various health issues, taking them together can cause more harm than good, says Dr Sushila Kataria, Internal Medicine, Medanta. “It is often ‘doctor driven’ where one single patient ends up seeing multiple physicians and specialists, all of whom prescribe a different medication,” Kataria adds.

It is particularly prominent in the elderly population, who take drugs for long-term conditions like diabetes, arthritis, blood pressure, along with medicines for immediate cures to aches, fever and digestive problems.

“The fact that patients will have to take multiple drugs is inevitable,” says Dr Tarun Sahni, senior consultant, Internal Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals. However, the advantages far outweigh the challenges, if the treatment is structured. “Sometimes the patients take counter drugs for issues like common cold and they have no idea that the drug might interfere with their ongoing medication, leading to adverse reactions.”

Sometimes the medicines can also enhance or reduce the efficacy of each other. One drug might interfere with the functioning of the other and reduce its effective time, and vice versa.

Here are some precautions that patients can take to minimise the risk of Polypharmacy:

Know your health conditions: It is important that every person is aware of their health condition. If there are multiple health issues, keeping a handy notebook might help.

Try and have a central physician: This doctor can oversee all medication, offer comprehensive advice and if necessary even coordinate with specific doctors and specialists.

Keep notes of all medications: Patients need to not just keep track of their drugs but on every visit to the doctor, they must cross check if the medication needs to continue. Whenever a new condition develops, the doctor must be told about all the medication being taken, including supplements.

Ask your doctor everything: Ask the doctor about the drugs being prescribed, the possible side effects and the most adverse reactions that could happen. That will help everyone understand what to expect.

Discuss diets: Often drugs react with certain foods and supplements being consumed. Therefore, the doctor must be told of dietary patterns so that they make the right recommendations and dosages.

Don’t dismiss anything as old-age: A lot of people often dismiss certain reactions by putting them in the “age-related” tag. For example, certain drugs cause drowsiness and fatigue, which more often than not is dismissed as a sign of growing old.

Follow instructions: This is especially important because many people want to stop their medication as soon as they feel better. It is extremely important to follow the doctor’s advice regarding dosage and timings.

Keep track of all reactions: No matter how small it might seem, recording every reaction is important in ensuring the drug is not causing some long-term side effect.

Similar drugs: Senior citizens need to be extra alert to drugs that look or sound alike. Very often, similar sounding drugs are consumed and can cause stress in the body.

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