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Ask the Expert: What is Polypharmacy? Bookmark

Hannibal, MO -- Polypharmacy is the use of multiple medications by a patient. The minimum number of medications used to define polypharmacy varies, but usually ranges from five to ten. To decrease the risk of medication-related problems and being prescribed multiple medications for the same symptoms, patients should always review their medication list with their provider at every visit.


Dr. Venkata Kada with Hannibal Regional Medical Group notes, “Taking multiple medications is associated with an increased risk for adverse drug reactions or medication-related problems, especially in the elderly. If a patient, age 65 or older, takes multiple medications, he or she is at high risk for medication-related problems and there are several contributing factors.”  Sometimes medicine can create a side effect which presents itself as a new symptom or condition; treating that new symptom with another medicine will unnecessarily increase the number of medications and medication-related problems, which is referred to as prescription cascade.


An elderly patient is more likely to receive care from several physicians and each of them may prescribe a different medication.  As a geriatric board certified physician, Dr. Kada has a deep understanding of the biology of aging as well as extensive knowledge of its associated diseases and conditions.  Dr Kada shares, “Physiologic changes associated with aging affect drug metabolism and increase the risk of medication-related problems. These changes, along with the use of multiple medications, increase the risk of adverse interactions between medications.”

Criteria have been developed by experts to assess inappropriate medication use in older adult individuals. The most widely used benchmarks for inappropriate medications are the Beers criteria, which can help avoid inappropriate use of medications in the elderly, including certain over-the-counter products.  Dr. Kada says, “To avoid inappropriate use of medications, it is important to talk with your physician before taking any over-the-counter drugs.”  Multiple medications are often required to treat complex medical problems and to meet disease-specific clinical practice guidelines. Discussion with your physician about these issues will help avoid over-prescribing, under-prescribing and other medication-related problems.  To schedule an appointment with Dr. Kada call 573-629-3440