One in five older adults takes prescription drugs that work against each other

About 75 percent of older adults in America have more than one chronic health condition, according to a study from Oregon State University.

But the problem isn't so much their health, per se, but how the drugs they're taking to treat their health conditions interact with one another negatively.

In one of the first studies to examine this topic, researchers found that 22.6 percent of adults were taking at least one medication that could worsen a coexisting condition that was being treated by another medication.

Different treatment courses may be necessary

The study, published in the journal PLOS One, found that in cases where "therapeutic competition" was a problem, treatment was only changed in 16 percent of the cases.

"Many physicians are aware of these concerns but there isn't much information available on what to do about it," said David Lee, assistant professor in the Oregon State University/Oregon Health & Science University College of Pharmacy.

Lee noted that most physicians tend to treat too many conditions with too many medications - and that there might be times when it's best for physicians to make a judgment call about which condition is the most serious, and to treat that one first.

Study identifies most common conflicts

For the study, a nationally representative sample of 5,815 adults was used to identify some of the most common competing chronic conditions that might pose medication interaction problems. Among these combinations included hypertension and osteoarthritis; hypertension and diabetes; hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; diabetes and coronary artery disease; and hypertension and depression.

One example of drug competition can happen in a patient with coronary heart disease and COPD, for example. The beta blockers that are often prescribed to treat heart disease can cause airway resistance that makes COPD symptoms worse, the researchers explained.

"More than 9 million older adults in the U.S. are being prescribed medications that may be causing them more harm than benefit," said Jonathan Lorgunpai, co-author of the study and a medical student at the Yale School of Medicine. "Not only is this potentially harmful for individual patients, it is also very wasteful for our health-care system."

Source: Oregon State University

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