Multiple medications – Polypharmacy

What is polypharmacy?

Polypharmacy is a term used when someone is taking multiple medicines at the same time.

As people live longer, they are more likely to have more than one long-term condition. With each requiring medication, for example diabetes and high blood pressure.

Sometimes, the number of medicines increases further because they may be required to take medicines to counteract the side effects of another. For example, anti-inflammatory pain relief for arthritis, may require stomach protection medication.

People also don’t only take medicines prescribed by their doctor, they may buy medicines from the pharmacy or health shops, such as vitamins and minerals. These also contribute to polypharmacy.

Why focus on polypharmacy?

All medicines have benefits, but they can also have side effects.

Very few people will be affected by just one medicine, however taking many different types increases the risk of undesired effects.

Box of medication | Around 110 million unnecessary medicines are issued each year in England.

Around 110 million unnecessary medicines are issued each year in England.

It is good practice to have a regular review of all prescribed medicines, to ensure they are effective and that their benefits outweigh any unwanted side effects.

Not all polypharmacy is bad, it can be helpful and necessary for some people with severe health conditions, such as stroke or heart attack, which use a combination of medicines to prevent serious issues.

Older people are most likely to be taking multiple medicines, as well as those with long term conditions. However, it can affect anyone.

In Lincolnshire the number of people taking more than six medicines a day is higher than the national average and increasing.

This can be seen particularly in our coastal areas, where we have an increased older population, with a mixture of different health conditions.