At least 2 million older Americans are taking a combo of drugs or supplements that can be a risky mix - from blood thinners and cholesterol pills to aspirin and ginkgo capsules - a new study warns. And among older men, the numbers are particularly alarming - one in 10 are taking potentially harmful combinations, theAssociated Press writes.
The report showing just how many older people are using risky combinations comes from a study of nearly 3,000 interviews with people aged 57 to 85. The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health and University of Chicago, appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association (look here).
Ninety-one percent in this age group use at least one medication, often for heart disease and related problems. That translates to more than 50 million people, the AP writes. More than half use at least five remedies, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines or supplements.
Commonly used and risky combinations included:
- Aspirin taken with over-the-counter ginkgo supplements, increasing chances for excess bleeding;
- Lisinopril, a blood pressure drug, taken with potassium, which combined can cause abnormal heart rhythms. Potassium is often prescribed to restore low levels of this important mineral caused by certain blood pressure drugs.
- Prescription cholesterol drugs called statins taken with over-the-counter niacin, a type of vitamin B that also lowers cholesterol. This combination increases risks for muscle damage.
"Patients need to know that while medications are often beneficial, they're not always safe," Dima Qato, a University of Chicago pharmacist and lead author, tells the AP. "If they need to self-medicate with over-the-counter or dietary supplements, they should definitely consult with their physicians or pharmacists."
The study relied on data from in-person interviews with 2,976 adults questioned about which medications they routinely used. The nationally representative survey was done between June 2005 and March 2006, and results were extrapolated to the general population.
The researchers assessed how many people routinely used at least two meds of any type known to have dangerous or even fatal interactions. The number totaled at least one in 25, corresponding to 2.2 million nationwide. Those interviewed weren't asked if they'd ever had a bad reaction from taking those combinations. And the study didn't assess whether patients were taking meds inappropriately.
Jerry Gurwitz, chief of the geriatric medicine division at University of Massachusetts Medical School, says taking multiple meds, despite possible bad interactions, isn't necessarily a bad idea as long as patients are in close contact with their doctor.
"There are definitely many instances where if they're monitored carefully and there's good reason for using them, that they could be used safely," Gurwitz, who wasn't involved in the study, tells the AP. Prescription drugs were the most commonly used and nearly one-third used at least five prescription drugs.
Michael Cohen, a pharmacist and president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, says the study is an important snapshot of medication use in older Americans. But as someone who takes at least five medications himself, Cohen said the widespread prevalence isn't surprising.
Cohen said his group recently launched a new web site that will allow consumers to enter names of their medications to check for any potentially dangerous interactions.
Source: Associated Press