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Pill burden is a term that refers to the number of tablets, capsules or other medication forms that a patient takes on a regular schedule.
Higher pill burden decreases compliance with drug therapy, due to the need to take a large quantity of pills on a regular basis. It also increase the possibility of adverse medication reactions ("side effects") and drug-drug intereactions due to polypharmacy. High pill burden has also been associated with increased risk of hospitalization, medication errors, and increased costs both for the pharmaceuticals involved and for the treatment of adverse events. Finally, it is source of disatisfaction to many patients.
High pill burden is commonly associated with antiretroviral drug regimens to control HIV, but can be seen in other patient populations. For instance, an adult with multiple chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, osteoporosis and clinical depression can often be prescribed more than a dozen different medications daily. Because chronic conditions tend to accumulate in the elderly, pill burden is a particular issue in geriatrics.