If you followed the news over the past few days, you’d be forgiven for feeling utterly confused… and more than a little worried… about the latest medical findings.
Here’s the low-down: A major study of over 13,000 patients found that those relying on a cocktail of drugs could be risking an early death… Over-the-counter medications like painkillers, allergy remedies and eye drops, and prescription medicines, including those for treating heart disease, dementia, and sleeping pills are among the most common putting patients’ lives at risk when taken at the same time.
Are you taking any of the following drugs?
If you’re over 65 then it is more than likely that you have more than one of the following drugs in your medicine chest: warfarin, used for heart disease, the painkiller codeine, Piriton allergy tablets, the antidepressant Seroxat, the sleeping pill Nytol, the heartburn drug ranitidine (used in Zantac), the beta blocker Atenolol, and some eye drops….
These are only a few of the 80 drugs researchers from East Anglia University looked at in their study, which spanned over a two-year period, from 1991 to 1993. All of these drugs are known to cause ‘anticholinergic effects’, which means they can cause certain side effects including dilating pupils, a dry mouth and constipation.
If the side effects only stopped at a bit of constipation, there would be less cause for alarm… However, the researchers found that patients taking more than one of these drugs were three times more likely to die early than those not taking any at all! The results showed that a fifth of patients taking more than one of these drugs were dead within two years, compared to 7 per cent of those not taking any.
Worse yet, patients taking several of these drugs had a 4 per cent worse score in key tests that checked proper brain functioning… Meaning that if a cocktail of these drugs doesn’t put you in an early grave, it will almost certainly affect your memory, leaving you confused, forgetful and finding it difficult to drive!
The results of the study were published in the American Geriatrics Society journal, highlighting the fact that those suffering from dementia were particularly at high risk, as they are more likely to be taking several drugs ranging from anti-depressants, sleeping tablets, incontinence treatments and painkillers for arthritis.
Why the confusion?
Whilst the researchers are very clear in their message on the inappropriate use of medicine the question is, how serious is your doctor about it?
The researchers classified the drugs they studied into three groups based on their potential harm: severe, moderate and mild. Drugs with a severe risk include Piriton, Nytol and the incontinence drug Ditropan.
Has your doctor ever taken the time to discuss all the different medicines you are taking (over-the-counter and prescription), and tell you about the potentially harmful interactions they can cause when taken together?
I know for a fact my doctor certainly hasn’t…
The truth is, I didn’t even know that Piriton posed such a high risk when taken with other drugs… it is after all an over-the-counter antihistamine! However, according to the results of the study, combining a high-risk antihistamine with low-risk eye drops increases your risk of dying by almost 20 per cent…
You can hardly blame your doctor for that, since both antihistamines and eye drops are freely available off the shelf at your local supermarket!
However, you can blame those in the medical profession for saying things like, “All drugs have possible side-effects and the results of this study should not lead anyone to stop current medications without discussing this with their doctor first… It is important to balance the proven benefits against the risk of side effects…” which is exactly what Dr Tim Chico, an honorary consultant cardiologist at the University of Sheffield, said when commenting on the results of the current study.
Balancing the proven benefits against the risk of side effects… I’m getting a bit tired of that old chestnut… If you ask me, things are getting very risky in the business of mainstream medicine… too risky for my liking!
If you happen to be taking one or more prescription medicines, I urge you to make an appointment with your doctor today. Before you see him or her, make a list of all the prescription medication and over-the-counter medicines you are taking. Armed with your list, discuss with your doctor whether all of them are absolutely necessary… also keep in mind that, in many cases, there are alternatives available which don’t carry the same risk. Discuss these alternatives with your doctor.
Still on the topic of prescription drugs and their potential side effects… If you’re suffering from heart disease your doctor may have mentioned the drug ezetimibe – Big Pharma’s new kid on the block… Your doctor may have even tried to put you on a combination of ezetimibe and statins – a potentially lethal combination!
Click here, to read Dr. John Briffa’s latest post on The Cholesterol Truth, where he’ll explain why the latest ezetimibe research results are not quite as rosy as they first appear.
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Disclaimer: Bear in mind the material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only. We are not addressing anyone’s personal situation. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
‘Drug cocktails that put elderly at risk: Study warns mixing medication may be fatal’ published online 24.06.11, dailymail.co.uk
‘Fatal cocktail of common drugs putting elderly at risk’ published online 24.06.11, telegraph.co.uk
‘Drug cocktails put patients at early death risk’ published online 24.06.11, articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com