Problems can arise when you are taking multiple drugs (Photo: iStock)

Some people are unlucky with the amount of prescription meds that they need to take daily. It isn't unusual to find some folk taking close to ten or more drugs regularly. Such situations are more common with the elderly who tend to have multiple medical conditions. The same goes for people with co-existing chronic conditions which require longterm control.

When patients need to take more than five prescription meds regularly, this is medically described as polypharmacy. Sometimes the situation is unavoidable. But more often than not, polypharmacy is inappropriate and predisposes patients to multiple risks.

Problems can arise when you are taking multiple drugs. For starters, compliance tends to be an issue. You may not remember what to take when, and how often. You may easily confuse dosages when you have to fish out different meds at different times. This opens you up to the risk of over- or under-dosage. Some drugs may interact with others in ways that may limit their desired effects, or heighten side effects to unsafe levels. The burden of taking too many meds can take a toll on you. Not to mention accruing costs over time.

The main way to manage polypharmacy is to deprescribe. This essentially means a deliberate attempt to limit the amount of meds prescribed to any single individual. Physicians should be the key drivers of deprescribing.

There should always be a deliberate attempt to review all the meds a single person is taking and work out what may be unnecessary. Some meds are just duplications of similar effects, and others may have no tangible benefits. Weeding out any superfluous drugs at every opportunity should be an ongoing goal for physicians.

You must also take responsibility for the number of meds you could be taking. If you are popping in pill after pill every so often, you likely are overdoing it. Review the reasons for all those meds, you may possibly already be able to discontinue some self-prescribed ones.


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Check with your physician about prescription-only meds before weeding any out. If the physician insists on you taking a bagful of meds daily, question them some more. There are always some that could be taken off, and others may be available in ready-made combinations that may lessen your overall quantities.

Polypharmacy indirectly points to a lack of clinical clarity. If what's being treated is becoming elusive, any physician prescribing multiple drugs to cater for multiple possibilities is plainly incompetent. The better way is to escalate diagnostic pathways or pursue a referral to other specialists.

Equally, not all perceivable symptoms warrant a prescription, doing nothing in the setting of mundane conditions is an accepted medical principle. Only ever take meds when absolutely necessary.

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