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Thursday, September 12, 2024

Protecting Yourself From Overmedication

Today, it seems that there is a pill for every problem. Whether you have trouble sleeping or a stuffy nose, chances are your doctor can write a prescription to fix you right up. But what happens when the medications that you are taking begin to interact and work to your disadvantage?

A recent study shows that in 2011, doctors wrote 4.02 billion prescriptions for drugs in America. That’s an average of thirteen prescriptions for each man, woman and child – or one new prescription per month for every American. With so many prescriptions being written, it’s important to pay attention to what medications you are taking at what time to avoid damaging side effects from interacting drugs.

A True Tale

Before we dive into the facts of overmedicating, I want to share a story that is circulating online. A recent Washington Post article detailed the account of an 83 year-old woman who went into the hospital for an asthma attack. Upon arrival she was given steroids for her asthma, but they made her blood pressure rise and caused vertigo. The doctor then prescribed blood pressure medication, but it made her dizzy. Then, the woman was given a water pill because she noticed that her ankles were swelling, but the water pill lowered her level of potassium. After that, she was given a pill to treat osteoporosis that caused gastric bleeding. The Washington Post quoted the woman saying, “I came out sicker than I went in.”

This story is a great example of how someone can be overmedicated and the harmful side effects that can occur as a result.

Who is at Risk?

Anyone can suffer problems from overmedication, but there is heightened risk among older adults. Older adults make up 12.4% of the U.S. population, but they account for almost a third of all prescriptions and half of all over-the-counter drugs. Moreover, 90% of people over the age of 65 take some type of medication daily, and 50% take more than five drugs every day.

Why Overmedicating Occurs

People are often overmedicated because their perscriptions are overlooked. When you have a poor reaction to a certain type of medication or two of prescriptions interact negatively, your body will begin to show symptoms. Instead of pinpointing these medications as the root of the problem, doctors might misconstrue these symptoms as a new medical condition and treat it with more medication. This situation can spiral out of control, leaving you on a number of unnecessary drugs.

Effects of Overmedicating

The biggest issue of overmedicating is that it can have a direct affect on a person’s mental capacity, which is why overmedicated adults are often wrongly diagnosed with depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, the ongoing side effects and various complications can be prolonging the issue. If there is something wrong medically, the more medication you take can be creating additional and unnecessary symptoms. Sometimes, it’s beneficial to try one prescription at a time, and if it offsets further problems, that specific drug may not be right for you. Lastly, overmedication can be putting your life at risk if too many conflicting prescriptions are being consumed at the same time.

How to Avoid Overmedicating

Pill Review

If you or a loved one is taking more than one type of medication at a time, consider bringing your prescriptions to a doctor or pharmacist for review. That way, you can be aware of any problematic interactions. Ask questions about the dosages and time of day you are to be taking each pill. You can even bring over-the-counter medications for a doctor to review.

Ask Questions

Overmedication often occurs because questions are not asked. Always ask whether or not you really need the drug, what it will do for you, what the side effects are and how it will interact with your other medications. If you become sick, ask your doctor if the symptoms you are showing match any side effects of the medications you are taking.

Don’t Be Fooled

Many people believe that it is okay to mix over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements with prescriptions drugs, but this can also cause complications. Always consult your doctor before mixing any types of drugs – prescription or otherwise.

Take Control

Sometimes, it can be difficult for your doctor to keep track of what prescriptions you are taking. To protect your health, it’s important to take control of your body’s needs and become educated about your medications.


Melanie Marzillo
Research & Community Education

Chicago Skilled Nursing
Chicago Senior Living

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