1 in 6 Seniors Combines Meds, Supplements
Researchers say patients should tell doctors every treatment they're taking
By Steven Reinberg
MONDAY, March 21, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- More seniors than ever are taking supplements alongside their medications, a practice that puts them at risk for dangerous drug interactions, researchers report.
More than 15 percent of older Americans took potentially life-threatening combinations of prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements in 2011, the study showed. That was almost a twofold increase from 2005, when 8.4 percent of seniors did so.
"Alongside the growing use of multiple medications, there is also a hidden, and increasing, risk of potentially deadly drug interactions in older adults," said lead researcher Dr. Dima Qato. She is an assistant professor of pharmacy systems at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Many of these interactions involved heart drugs and supplements, such as omega-3 fish oil supplements, which are more commonly used now than they were five years ago, Qato said.
To be on the safe side, patients should always tell their doctor and pharmacist about all of the drugs and supplements they are taking, or plan to take, including over-the-counter medications, she said.
"A medication or supplement may be safe and beneficial when you use it alone, but when you mix it with other medications or supplements, it can be very dangerous," Qato explained.
The report was published online March 21 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Qato's team first interviewed more than 2,300 older adults about their medication/supplement use in 2005, and then they surveyed another 2,200 seniors in 2011. Participants were aged 62 to 85.
The investigators found that the number of people taking at least five prescription drugs rose from over 30 percent to almost 36 percent during the study period. In addition, the number of seniors taking five or more medications or supplements increased from over 53 percent to slightly over 67 percent.
Over the same period, the use of over-the-counter medications dropped from slightly over 44 percent to almost 38 percent, while the use of dietary supplements rose from close to 52 percent to almost 64 percent, the researchers found.