More than half of Americans are taking at least four different prescription medications – more than ever before, according to a new analysis by Consumer Reports. But while drugs can help keep you healthy, experts say many Americans are taking drugs they don’t need or in too-high dosages.
“As we age, the way our bodies metabolize drugs change, which means you may be taking too much, or you may no longer need some medications you’ve been taking for years,” renowned cardiologist Dr. Chauncey Crandall tells Newsmax Health.
According to Crandall, the issue of too-high dosages is common for people age 65 and older, but research also shows women may experience a similar problem – no matter what their age – because studies that designate dosages are largely based on research using men, and their findings may not be appropriate for women.
The European Society of Cardiology recently called for cardiovascular drug dosages to be adjusted for women, saying that adverse side effects could cause them become sick, or to discontinue the medications.
That study, published in European Heart Journal Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy.1, finds that women are far more likely to experience adverse drug reactions, such as torsades de pointes (an abnormal heart rhythm than can lead to sudden cardiac death) and severe bleeding.
Statin-induced myopathy, a type of muscle pain associated with the cholesterol-lowering drugs, is more common in older women with low body weight, the research says.
Also, when women do experience adverse side effects, they are often more severe than in men, sometimes requiring hospitalization, the study finds.
“Such problems occur not only because women tend to be smaller and weigh less, but also due to gender differences in the way our bodies metabolize these drugs,” says Crandall, chief of the cardiac transplant program at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
U.S. regulations requiring that both sexes be included in human clinical trials were introduced 20 years ago. Yet women remain vastly underrepresented in clinical studies, including premarketing drug trials used to determine appropriate dosages, notes Crandall.
Similarly, men and women over the age of 65 are customarily excluded from these drug trials.
“This is a problem because, even if older people weight the same as they did before, drugs may affect them more, because of their loss of muscle mass and less efficient kidney function,” notes Crandall, author of the Heart Health Report.
Also, the older people get, the more likely they are to be taking prescription drugs. An AARP study shows that 87 percent of people over the age of 65 are taking a prescription drug, compared to 67 percent of those between the ages of 50-64.
“Many people in this age group are on cardiac drugs, like beta blockers and calcium channel blockers. These drugs slow the heart rate, and they may slow it down too much in these older people,” Crandall says.
He advises talking to your doctor about your medications, and dosages, particularly if you’ve been taking them a long time. You can also check the American Geriatrics Society Website, at HealthInAging.org, for articles on drugs that older people should not take or be careful about taking with certain other conditions. Just enter “drugs to avoid” in the search box for links to useful articles.
Here are Crandall’s other tips on how to give your medications a check-up:
- Keep an up-to-date list of all the medications you take, including over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and supplements and bring it to your doctor at your next appointment to review. If you keep the list on your smartphone, your doctor can review and make changes right on it.
- Be aware of all potential interactions and side effects of medications you’re taking.
- If you experience a problem that could be a drug side effect, report it to your doctor.
- Never take a friend or anyone else’s medication.
- Discard unused and expired medication.
- Be careful with generic drugs. They may not be manufactured to the same standard as their brand name counterpart. Counterfeit drugs are also more likely to be a problem. Ask your doctor about the pros and cons of any generic drugs you’re taking.
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