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What is Polypharmacy?


Updated April 28, 2014



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Question: What is Polypharmacy?
Answer: Polyphamacy is a term to describe the situation when someone is prescribed multiple medications. This term is most often used when an individual is prescribed an alarming number of uncoordinated medications. Polypharmacy often occurs because an individual patient, especially and older patient, may be under the care of multiple physicians. A person sees three different doctors and gets three different prescriptions. These prescirptions may interact with each other, causing side effects (sometimes dangerous) or they may work against each other, eliminating the benefit of the medication. Of course polypharmacy, is not a problem in itself, but (all too often) there is a lack of coordination among care providers resulting in a risk of drug interactions. The good news is that there are multiple resources available to check a list of medications for possible interactions and side effects. Here are some ideas to avoid interactions is you find you (or someone you love) has a polypharmacy situation:
  • Keep a list of all your medications including vitamins and over-the-counter items. Bring this list to all your appointments and show it to tour care providers. Ask them to check the list for any possible complications and remember to also ask if any of your symptoms might really be side effects.
  • Go online. There are many websites you can check to see if there are potential problems in your polypharmacy regimen. To learn detailed information about a medication, go to Drugs A to Z. To look for drug interactions, try this site.
  • Appoint a lead physician. Ask a family practitioner or a geriatrician to be your "lead physician." As part of this role, that doctor will evaluate your care from all your other doctors, look over medications and make phone calls to coordinate care when necessary. Sometimes all you need to do is to let a doctor know that you would like this level of involvement in your care.
  • Ask your pharmacist. Pharmacists are trained to look for drug interactions and other problems - but the can only do that if they have all your information. Hand them your polypharmacy list and ask them to look it over. This is especially important if you get your medications at more then one pharmacy as all the information won't be in one place.

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