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Study: Elderly at Risk for Dangerous Drug Interactions

A recent study has highlighted the danger of combining prescription medicines with over-the-counter drugs and vitamins. The study was based on a survey of 3,000 middle aged and elderly patients in the U.S. Researchers found one in 25 people were at risk for dangerous complications.

Modern medicine has helped older people live longer, even with chronic illness, their health frequently stabilized by affordable, widely available generic drugs.

A recent study of people aged 57 to 85 showed that about 90 percent of those surveyed said they took at least one prescription drug. Almost 30 percent took at least five prescribed medicines.

The older the patient, the greater the number of drugs. And according to researchers, the greater the number of non-prescription medicines, vitamins and dietary supplements taken at the same time.

"The number of medications older adults are taking are increasing," Dr. Stacy Lindau said. She is with The University of Chicago Medical Center. "And we worry about the potential interactions between these drugs because they may have. some safety implications for older adults."

The University of Chicago researchers found one in 25 people were at risk for dangerous complications.

They say almost half of the reported drug interactions caused bleeding.

For example, Warfarin is normally used to prevent blood clots. But combining Warfarin with aspirin, often used as a blood thinner, can cause bleeding.

Bleeding was also reported when aspirin was taken with the herbal supplement, Ginkgo Biloba.

Lisinopril, a drug used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease, can interrupt heart rhythm when used with potassium.

Some statin drugs combined with niacin, a type of B vitamin, cause muscle weakness or muscle breakdown.

Dima Qato of The University of Chicago Medical Center, recommends that patients talk to the experts before taking drug combinations. "They have to make sure they discuss all their medications with their physician and their pharmacist," Qato stated.

The researchers say this is the first large scale study of how older people use prescription and non-prescription drugs.