The simultaneous use of multiple drugs to treat a single ailment or condition is referred to as “polypharmacy.” It’s a problem that actually has roots in medical school, where the teaching consists of how to diagnose pathology and then how to prescribe the drug or drugs that are indicated for the condition diagnosed.
Medical students spend an inordinate amount of time learning about pharmacology. Future doctors have to memorize how a drug works, including the side effects are associated with each drug.
Of course, doctors should understand how drugs work, and know what the possible adverse effects are. I’m certain most doctors believe they know all the ins and outs of each drug they prescribe.
Where doctors perform poorly is when polypharmacy occurs. Trying to interpret how multiple drug therapies will work together or against each other is a virtually impossible task, because there are few — and in most cases zero — studies on the cumulative effects of taking drugs concurrently.
For example, take the case of a patient with a bladder infection. Doctors are generally up-to-date on antibiotic allergies, and will ask the patient if he or she has any drug allergies before prescribing an antibiotic.
But if a doctor prescribes ciprofloxacin to treat the infection, he or she should be aware that Cipro can be associated with dozens of side effects, including interactions with other drugs and other serious reactions that can cause a fatal heart arrythmia.
Unfortunately, because the volume of available medications has grown so large, physicians can’t possibly know offhand all the potential interactions between medications.
Fortunately, there is hope. Today, the Internet provides a quick source of information that anyone — doctor or patient — can tap into to find out how different drugs interact.
Not only do I utilize this tool, I suggest my patients do the same.
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