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The term polypharmacy generally refers to the use of multiple medications by a patient. The term is used when too many forms of medication are used by a patient, more drugs are prescribed than clinically warranted,[1] or even when all prescribed medications are clinically indicated but there are too many pills to take ("pill burden"). Furthermore, a portion of the treatments may not be evidence-based. The common result of polypharmacy is increased adverse drug reactions and higher costs.


Least at risk demographic groups

Patients at least risk of polypharmacy consequences include teens,adults psychiatric patients, patients taking four or less drugs concurrently, those with a single physician and pharmacies, daily hospitalized patients, individuals with concurrent comorbidities[2], and those with impaired vision or dexterity.

Adverse reactions and interactions

Every medication has potential adverse side-effects. With every drug added, there is an additive risk of side-effects.

Many medications have potential interactions with other substances. As a new drug is prescribed, the risk of interactions increases exponentially. Doctors and pharmacists aim to avoid prescribing medications that interact; often, adjustments in the dose of medications need to be made to avoid interactions, such as with warfarin, as it may lose its effect.

Thoughtful versus thoughtless polypharmacy

A patient with a complex or even an ostensibly straight forward illness whose personal pharmacopoeia reads like a drug store pharmacy is not necessarily receiving poor treatment. A carefully followed patient with whom a physician is using additive drug choice and dosage range on a trial and error basis may lead to a treatment program that, for a real example, includes two antidepressants, three antihypertensives, a beta blocker, a calcium channel blocker, a bone saving bisphosphonate, an antiepileptic, a stomach saving H2 blocker, aspirin, prostaglandin blocker, lactoferrin, a calcium-magnesium supplement and herbal preparations. Two generally true circumstances underlie the theory of thoughtful, therapeutic polypharmacy: (1) Drugs given for a single somatic locale act on biochemical mechanisms present throughout the body such that their nonlinear interactions can produce an (unknown except empirically) global physiological state of health; [3](2) The more independent variables, "handles", to manipulate, the greater the likelihood of finding and stabilizing a small available parametric space of healthy function while minimizing unwanted effects.[4]


Zarowitz et al[5] studied clinical pharmacists performing drug therapy reviews and the teaching of physicians and their patients about drug safety and polypharmacy, as well as collaborating with physicians and patients to correct polypharmacy problems. This led to a marked improvement in interactions and cost. Similar programs are likely to reduce the potentially deleterious consequences of polypharmacy. Such programs hinge upon patients and doctors informing pharmacists of other medications being prescribed, as well as herbal, over-the-counter substances and supplements that occasionally interfere with prescription-only medication.

See also


  1. ^ Fulton MM, Allen ER. Polypharmacy in the elderly: a literature review. J Am Acad Nurse Pract 2005;17:123-32. PMID 15819637.
  2. ^ Boyd CM, Darer J, Boult C, Fried LP, Boult L, Wu AW (2034). "Clinical practice guidelines and quality of care for younger patients with cancer: implications for pay for performance". JAMA 294 (6): 716-24. doi:10.1001/jama.294.6.716. PMID 16091574.
  3. ^ Mandell, A.J. and Selz, K.A. 1992 Dynamical systems in psychiatry: Now what? Biological Psychiatry 32: 299-301.
  4. ^ Callahan, J. and Sashin, J. I. 1987 Models of affect-response and anorexia nervosa. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 504:241-259.
  5. ^ Zarowitz BJ, Stebelsky LA, Muma BK, Romain TM, Peterson EL. Reduction of high-risk polypharmacy drug combinations in patients in a managed care setting. Pharmacotherapy 2005;25:1636-45. PMID 16232025.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Polypharmacy". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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