Drug safetyManaging multiple medications
What are high-risk medicines?
A high-risk medicine is one that may cause serious health problems if not taken the right way, or taken with another drug or food item that it may interact with. Some examples include:
- Medicine that makes you drowsy, causes depression or confusion, or has other potentially dangerous side effects
- Medicine for one health condition that may make another health problem worse
Taking multiple medicines together may affect how they work and may even be dangerous.
How aging may affect your treatment
As you age, your body begins to handle medicine differently than it used to. If you are age 65 or older, you should take special care when taking your medicine, even though you may feel perfectly healthy. Some changes people experience when they age include:
- Changes in sleep
- Changes in physical and mental abilities
- Changes in memory
- Changes in eating and digestion
- Changes in how the body handles medicine
In some cases, it may take your kidneys and liver more time to process medicines, and some medicines may stay in your body longer. This may cause your medicine to be stronger or weaker than it has been in the past, and you may be more likely to experience side effects. You may also experience side effects from taking multiple medications that may interact together in a way that is harmful to your body. You can work to make sure that the medicines you are taking are safe by learning more about high-risk medicines and talking to your doctor about your treatment and the medicines you take.
Taking high-risk medicines
If your doctor has prescribed you a high-risk medicine, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it; it just means that you should take care when using it and discuss any concerns with your doctor. Some things to remember:
- Work with your doctor and your pharmacist to avoid having any issues with the medicines you are taking.
- Be organized with your medicine and take it the way your doctor has prescribed.
- Make a list of all your medicines, taking note of when you take them and at what doses.
- Share this list with your doctor, especially when visiting a new doctor, and ask whether there are any medicines that you should not be taking or do not need. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about potential side effects.
- Share your list with a pharmacist and ask about any interactions from the medicines you are taking.
- Know your medicines by name, understand what they do, and read the information sheets that come with your medicines.
Talk to your doctor
It’s always important to talk to your doctor first regarding any high-risk medicines you might be taking. Simple cold medicines or even herbs may interact poorly with high-risk medicines. Some questions you may want to ask your doctor include:
- What is my medicine for?
- How should I take my medicine?
- What are the benefits or side effects of my medicine?
- Even though I am not currently experiencing any side effects, am I at an increased risk for harmful side effects from taking this medicine?
- Is it possible to switch my medicine to a safer alternative?
- Can my medicine increase my risk of falls?
- Will my medicine interact poorly with any other medicines I’m taking?
- Will my medicine have an effect on any other medical conditions I have?
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Examples of high-risk medications
If you take any of the most commonly-prescribed high-risk medications, there may be alternatives you can try.