More than 50% of older adults with heart failure are sent home with drugs from a pharmacy that, according to a new study, are not only unnecessary but can also cause undesirable interactions.
Researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine and the New York Presbyterian / Weill Cornell Medical Center found that heart failure patients aged 65 and over are regularly discharged from hospital on 10 or more drugs.
“High drug exposure, also known as polypharmacy, is often associated with adverse events and reactions,” said Dr. Parag Goyal, lead study author, in a press release. “As treatment options for a variety of conditions, including heart failure, increase and the population ages, it becomes increasingly important to weigh the risks and potential benefits of multiple drugs.”
The study, published in Circulation: Heart Failure, a journal of the American Heart Association, examined the medical charts of 558 adults aged 65 and over to Medicare and was hospitalized for heart failure between 2003 and 2014. The patients were in one of the 380 hospitals participating in the study “Reasons for Geography and Racial Differences in Stroke” (REGARDS).
The researchers counted the number of medications each patient took before entering the hospital and after they were discharged. Each drug has been categorized according to its treatment, such as heart failure and other types of heart disease, including statin drugs and aspirin for coronary heart disease. Drugs for other conditions such as lung problems, kidney disease, and type 2 diabetes have also been found.
The study found that 84% of those admitted to the hospital were taking five or more drugs, while 42% were taking 10 or more. Patients left the hospital with more prescriptions than when they were admitted: an overwhelming 95% had five or more drugs and 55% had 10 or more prescriptions.
Polypharmacy involves risks
Polypharmacy has become more common with the development of new heart failure drugs. Between 2003 and 2006, 41% of patients with heart failure were discharged from hospital with 10 or more drugs. That number rose to 68% for those who were hospitalized between 2011 and 2014. Most drugs, researchers found, were not intended to be used to treat heart failure or heart disease.
Anyone with heart failure can experience adverse effects from medication, researchers confirm in the press release. However, people taking 10 or more medications may be at particular risk of adverse drug drug interactions.
Robert Calandra is an award-winning journalist, author, and playwright. His work has been published in national and regional magazines and newspapers.