What are multiple medicines? What health professionals say

Listen to patients and health professionals talk about living with the impact of taking many medicines every day.

We spoke to five health professionals and this was what some of them had to say regarding the use of multiple medicines.


Problems with managing multiple medicines

Emily Klopper, pharmacist, says that sometimes the issues with multiple medicines have more to do with how well a person can manage their medicines, rather than the particular number of medicines they take.


The meaning of the term ‘polypharmacy’

Health professionals often use the term ‘polypharmacy’ when they are talking about multiple medicines. This term may refer to a particular number of medicines that a patient is taking, or a specific problem that occurs when a patient is taking more than one medicine. However, taking a number of medicines is often appropriate to their medical care, especially if they are taken as directed and are regularly reviewed by their GP and/or specialists.

We asked Associate Professor Sarah Hilmer, clinical pharmacologist and geriatrician, for her perspective on our definition of multiple medicines being ‘five or more medicines’. Her view is that polypharmacy is a ‘red flag’ that signals a greater risk of having problems with medicines. She describes what people who take a number of medicines need to be aware of.


Problems associated with multiple medicines

Problems associated with multiple medicines are something that doctors routinely manage in their practice, in conjunction with their patients. While it is not possible to give examples of the full range of issues that might emerge from taking multiple medicines, we asked the health professionals to describe some of the more common problems they see in their practice.

Dr Elisabeth Wearne, GP, describes one of the most common mistakes with medicines that she sees in her practice and gives an example of how this can happen.

Dr Brendan Beaton, haematologist, works with people who are very sick with leukaemia, lymphoma and other malignant diseases. He describes the side effects and other problems that the medicines to treat these conditions can cause for his patients.


What people also talk about


The Living with multiple medicines project was developed in collaboration with

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