Risks of taking multiple medicines
About 2 in 5 Australians aged 50 and older, and 2 in 3 Australians aged 75 and older, take five or more medicines every day.
Compared to those using fewer medicines, older Australians who take five or more medicines a day are twice as likely to report a side effect or other medicine problem. They are also seven times more likely to be taking medicines that could interact.
The more medicines you take, the more likely you are to experience medicine problems or mistakes.
This is true whether the medicines are prescription, non-prescription (over-the-counter) or complementary medicines. Medicine problems can land you in hospital.
If you take many medicines, your risk of experiencing side effects and interactions is also greatly increased.
- Some combinations of medicines especially problematic. If you are taking several different medicines that can affect your brain and nervous system, you are much more likely to experience drowsiness, confusion or memory problems. This can lead to falls or serious accidents.
- Older people are more prone to dizziness, light-headedness and fainting, especially if taking medicine that also causes these effects (these include blood pressure-lowering medicines, pain relief medicines that contain opioids, and medicines for psychotic conditions).
- Taking multiple medicines also increases the chance of a medicine affecting existing medical conditions – for example, anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) taken to relieve pain or inflammation can worsen high blood pressure and kidney function.
Side effects, and the higher financial costs sometimes associated with multiple medicines, may mean you are less able to take your medicines regularly or in the right way.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist about getting your medicines reviewed regularly, especially if you or someone you care for takes five or more medicines a day. Sometimes taking many different medicines can't be avoided, and indeed can be necessary for your health, but minimising the number of medicines you take, and reducing medicines that may cause problems for you, will help.
You can also help prevent medicine problems by:
- taking the lowest possible dose for each medicine you need
- simplifying what medicines you take and when
- using health care services or resources to help you manage your health and medicines.
Speak with your doctor or other health professional if you have concerns about the number of medicines you are taking.