What Is Polypharmacy?

When a person takes multiple medications simultaneously, often 5 or more, this is referred to as polypharmacy. The practice is quite common, especially among older adults who need multiple prescriptions for numerous chronic conditions (MCC), such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. These diseases require treatment to control symptoms and prevent future complications. However, polypharmacy can also lead to adverse drug reactions and overmedication. During medicine reviews, doctors and pharmacists often look for ways to help patients reduce the number of medications taken. In some cases, a dietician can help.

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Is polypharmacy on the rise?

There are various factors that can lead to increased rates of polypharmacy. Sometimes there is limited access to medical care or no communication between doctors. Elderly patients also require more drugs because of multiple health conditions. The increasing use of polypharmacy has led medical professionals to take a closer look at the issue. In most cases, the risks and dangers far outweigh the benefits of taking multiple medicines, and patients should be advised to cut down safely.

The dangers of too many medications

Polypharmacy can have several adverse effects on health. Taking multiple medications simultaneously confuses the body. Which drug is processed first? How can the liver and other organs use each effectively? Polypharmacy can also increase the risk of adverse drug interactions, lower treatment efficacy, and add to healthcare costs. There are also side effects such as dizziness, fatigue, depression, and more to consider. Elderly patients with multiple medications also have a higher risk of confusion, falls, and hip fractures.

A look at the diet

Can a healthy diet be the answer to reducing polypharmacy? A nutritious and well-planned diet may minimize the risk of adverse drug interactions. A dietician can also help identify foods that contain certain nutrients, such as magnesium and folic acid, that can offset the side effects of the medications. Furthermore, diet can provide the necessary micronutrients to potentially replace supplements. Certain dietary improvements can lead to weight loss, which will have a positive effect on health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. As part of a medication review, polypharmacy patients should speak with a dietician for more guidance.

Get off your meds

Aside from minimizing drug interactions and side effects, a dietician can also help manage polypharmacy. This is possible by crafting a dietary plan to help manage chronic symptoms. For example, a diet high in antioxidants, healthy fats, and fiber can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Most chronic conditions have pain as a symptom, requiring potent opioids. Once the symptoms are managed, the dietician and doctor can reassess the patient’s medications. From there, some drugs can be reduced, eliminated, or combined using compounding.

Consult a dietician

When trying to move away from polypharmacy, a dietician may sound like an unlikely resource for reducing medication. However, these specialists understand that food is medicine. A customized eating plan will provide all the nutrients to manage specific symptoms. Dieticians also help maintain consistent food habits and choices, which is essential to long-term health. A dietician can slowly help to limit interactions, reduce medications, and improve the overall quality of life.