Reporting Dr. Maria Simbra
PITTSBURGH (CBS) — Joan Slatkin is diabetic and takes six medications a day.
“Some I take with breakfast, some I take with lunch, some I take at dinner,” she said.
She’s very careful, and even writes everything down to make sure she doesn’t take the wrong dose.
“You really got to watch it,” she said. “It can get a little complicated.”
A new study from the Centers for Disease Control finds that each year nearly 100,000 adults older than 65 end up in the emergency room because of the wrong combination or dose of their medications.
“Across the United States, we see approximately 140 million emergency department visits a year. So, I’m surprised it’s only 100,000 that are estimated to be related to medication interactions and adverse events. If I had to guess, I would say that’s an underestimate of what actually happens,” says Dr. Arvind Venkat, an ER physician at Allegheny General Hospital.
The mix ups can lead to everything from allergic reactions to unintentional overdoses.
“Elderly patients are usually taking multiple medications that sometimes interact with each other and many of these patients end up in the hospital,” explains Dr. Jerome Tolbert of the Friedman Diabetes Institute.
The study found that most of the emergency hospitalizations were because of a few commonly used drugs, specifically blood thinners and diabetes medications.
Blood thinners can cause bleeding you may not be aware of, and medicines to lower blood sugar can cause it to go too low, causing problems with thinking and alertness.
Nearly half of the ER visits were for patients 80 or older.
“This is an area with the aging of the population, with the number of medications patients are prescribed, that really has the potential to balloon into a much larger problem than it is today,” Dr. Venkat adds.
“Patients go to different doctors. Doctors change medications that maybe you prescribed and you don’t know that, you see so it can be very confusing to the clinician as well as the patient,” says Dr. Tolbert.
Slatkin is cautious not to make a mistake.
“You have to remember exactly what you’re doing, what you took, what you need to take,” she said.
Things patients can do to help themselves – bring a list of all of your medicines to all of your doctor visits, and ask your doctor about and possible interactions when you’re given a new prescription.
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