Older adults are taking an increasing number of drugs, some of which they may not need. Kaiser Health News reports that more than 1 in 7 older adults experience harmful drug side effects. Talk to your doctor about the drugs you are taking, why you need them, and whether you can stop taking 1 or more of them.
The proportion of adults taking 5 or more medications almost doubled between 2000 and 2012, from eight percent to 15%. Often increased use of prescription drugs results from hospitalizations, when new drugs are prescribed.
Good primary care doctors and geriatricians oversee their patients’ drug use and try to “deprescribe,” reduce the number of prescriptions their patients are using, eliminating those that are unnecessary or inappropriate. Often, with drugs, less is more. Hundreds of new drugs are harmful or ineffective. And, one in three recently approved drugs may have harmful side effects.
The most common side effects from multiple medications are dizziness, confusion and falls. But, some side effects are life-threatening. Here is a roundup of Just Care posts on commonly used prescription and over-the-counter drugs, as well as supplements, that have been linked with serious side effects.
- Prednisone and other PPIs may increase risk of dementia
- PPIs, proton pump inhibitors, used for a prolonged time, can increase the risk of stomach cancer
- Actemra, a rheumatoid arthritis drug, may increase the risk of stroke, heart and lung disease, and has possibly killed hundreds of people who took it
- Hydrochlorothiazide, a common blood pressure drug, may increase risk of skin cancer
- Advil and Aleve and other drugs with ibuprofen may increase risk of stroke and heart attack
- Tylenol and other painkillers with acetaminophen may be toxic when overused
- Anticholinergic drugs may increase risk of cognitive impairment: Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Dramamine (dimenhydrinate), and Dimetapp (dextromethorphan), a commonly used cough suppressant found in cold remedies
- Body-building and weight-loss supplements, as well as supplements marketed for depression, sexual performance and treating digestive issues, may cause liver damage
These 15 ingredients in supplements may cause a wide range of harmful side effects.
Note that FDA approval of a drug does not mean that it is safe, only that the clinical trials pre-FDA approval showed that the drug offered a clinical benefit. If possible, stay away from drugs that have been on the market fewer than ten years. Typically, it takes 4.2 years from FDA approval for detection of a new risk for a novel drug. But, it could take 10 years after FDA approval for popular drugs to be pulled from the market.
Diane has spent her entire career advocating for consumers. She began her career in health advocacy in 1989 as the founder and president of the Medicare Rights Center. Recently, Diane has been leading the effort to build Just Care to help ensure people’s health and economic security. Diane currently serves on the Board of Consumer Reports.