Taking Too Many Meds Can Be As Bad (or Even Worse) As Taking Too Few

Here’s How to Check Safely

A study published in the American Medical Association Journal (JAMA) found that two-thirds of older adults take five or more medications and supplements daily, up 14 percent over ten years. And 17 percent use medications and/or supplements that shouldn’t be combined.

Dr. Michael A. Steinman, a geriatrician at the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center, said, “The chances of drug interactions and side effects increase dramatically as the number of medications you take goes up.”

So, regularly taking five or more medications—something we now know many Americans do—often does more harm than good, especially if you’re not closely monitored by your doctor or other healthcare provider. Interactions among medications can magnify a drug’s potency, or sometimes diminish its effectiveness, and sometimes they trigger dangerous side effects.

How to Stay Safe When Taking Multiple Medications.

Have a drug checkup. A minimum of once a year, and whenever you take something new, gather every prescription and over-the-counter drug and every supplement you take and bring them to your doctor so that he or she can see whether any interact with each other or whether you’re unnecessarily taking different drugs to treat the same problem. Your pharmacist can guide you also.

Ask Questions.

What, specifically, is the medication for? I was surprised to learn how often taking an inappropriately prescribed drug occurs. For example, a study of older veterans found that 65 percent were told to take a drug that was unnecessary.

Is the dosage of each medication correct, or does it need to be modified up or down (or even eliminated)?

Will this medication interact dangerously with other drugs or OTC products I’m taking? 

What side effects can I expect to encounter?

If I am to eliminate a drug, should I do it cold turkey, or do I need to taper off more slowly and on what schedule?

Carrying every pill you take to your next doctor’s appointment might seem like overkill at first, but in some cases it could save your life, especially if you take a multitude of drugs and supplements. It’s your health; no one can take care of it better than you. You must be your own watchdog!