As we age, we are more likely to develop multiple chronic conditions, which also means multiple medications. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), about 80 percent of adult Americans take at least one medication and 29 percent take five or more different medications. And more medications result in an increased risk of adverse drug interactions.
Adrian Wilson, Pharm.D., director of retail pharmacy operations for Carilion Clinic, explained that anyone who takes at least three or more medications could be at risk for an adverse drug interaction. And while not all drug interactions are significant or life threatening, Wilson noted that they can have an additive effect.
“Multiple medications taken together can cause drowsiness and/or low blood pressure,” he said. “This may not seem significant but it will greatly increase fall risks, a very real threat for elderly patients.”
Other practices that can increase a person’s risk for a drug interaction include getting prescriptions from more than one doctor, filling prescriptions at more than one pharmacy, and using both online and community pharmacies. To avoid a negative reaction, Wilson suggested taking the following steps:
1. Make a List
Make a complete list of prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and all supplements you are taking. Keep this list with you at all times and share it with your health care provider when you have an appointment. And be sure to share the list with your pharmacist when you are picking up your prescriptions, especially when you are filling a new prescription. It is also a good idea to give a copy to family and friends in case of an emergency.
2. Educate Yourself
Learn as much as possible about the medications you are taking to avoid making mistakes. Know your medicine by name, how to take it, how often you need to take it, how long you should take it, and any possible drug interactions. Don’t be afraid to ask your health care provider or pharmacist about your medications. Wilson noted that while the pharmacists may look busy, they love to answer questions and counsel patients.
3. Provider Communication
Multiple medications can also mean multiple physicians, so it is important that your health care providers work together and know what medications each one is prescribing. For example, Carilion Clinic uses an integrated electronic health records system that allows all of our providers to securely share information about your care.
4. Go to One Pharmacy
Many people will often go to multiple pharmacies looking for the best deal, but if those different pharmacists can’t talk to one another it can greatly increase your risk of an adverse interaction. Going to one pharmacy is your best option.
5. Do a Medication Review
Another great practice that Wilson encouraged is a regular medication review with your pharmacist. In a medication review, or what is known as medication therapy management, the pharmacist will sit down with you and spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour reviewing your entire medication regiment. This review can be easily scheduled with your pharmacist and, depending upon your coverage, can usually be billed to your insurance. It is a great opportunity to make sure your medications are working for you and not against you.
Just remember that your local pharmacists provide a wealth of knowledge when it comes to your medications, so never hesitate to ask about any drugs or supplements that you are taking.