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The term polypharmacy generally refers to the use of multiple medications by a patient. The term is used when too many forms of medication are used by a patient, more drugs are prescribed than clinically warranted, or even when all prescribed medications are clinically indicated but there are too many pills to take ("pill burden"). Furthermore, a portion of the treatments may not be evidence-based. The common result of polypharmacy is increased adverse drug reactions and higher costs.
At risk demographic groups
Patients at greatest risk of polypharmacy consequences include the elderly, psychiatric patients, patients taking five or more drugs concurrently, those with multiple physicians and pharmacies, recently hospitalized patients, individuals with concurrent comorbidities, and those with impaired vision or dexterity.
Adverse reactions and interactions
Every medication has potential adverse side-effects. With every drug added, there is an additive risk of side-effects.
Many medications have potential interactions with other substances. As a new drug is prescribed, the risk of interactions increases exponentially. Doctors and pharmacists aim to avoid prescribing medications that interact; often, adjustments in the dose of medications need to be made to avoid interactions, such as with warfarin.
Zarowitz et al studied clinical pharmacists performing drug therapy reviews and the teaching of physicians and their patients about drug safety and polypharmacy, as well as collaborating with physicians and patients to correct polypharmacy problems. This led to a marked improvement in interactions and cost. Similar programs are likely to reduce the potentially deleterious consequences of polypharmacy. Such programs hinge upon patients and doctors informing pharmacists of other medications being prescribed, as well as herbal, over-the-counter substances and supplements that occasionally interfere with prescription-only medication.
- ↑ Fulton MM, Allen ER. Polypharmacy in the elderly: a literature review. J Am Acad Nurse Pract 2005;17:123-32. PMID 15819637.
- ↑ Zarowitz BJ, Stebelsky LA, Muma BK, Romain TM, Peterson EL. Reduction of high-risk polypharmacy drug combinations in patients in a managed care setting. Pharmacotherapy 2005;25:1636-45. PMID 16232025.
- ANA.org - 'American Nurses Association Position Statement on Polypharmacy and the Older Adult'
- NASMHPD.org (pdf) - 'Technical Report on Psychiatric Polypharmacy' National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, (October 9, 2001)
- PsychRights.org - 'Psychiatric Polypharmacy: A Word of Caution', Leslie Morrison, MS, RN, Esq, Paul B. Duryea, Charis Moore, Alexandra Nathanson-Shinn, Stephen E. Hall, MD, James Meeker, PhD, DABFT, Charles A. Reynolds, PharmD, BCPP, Protection & Advocacy, Inc.
- UNC.edu - 'Polypharmacy in Older Adults: Information for people who are taking several medications', University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine
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