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Are number of medications taken and hospitalization risk related?

January 27, 2014
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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Does taking multiple medications increase the likelihood of hospitalization for the elderly? It depends on how many illnesses the person has, according to a new study.

People who have one illness and take many drugs have an increased risk of being admitted to the hospital, the researchers found, but those with multiple conditions who take many medications have a near-normal risk of admission.

“The commonly held assumption that polypharmacy is always hazardous and represents poor care is misleading,” says Rupert Payne, PhD, lead author of a paper published by the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. “Our work shows that we need more sophisticated approaches to assessing the appropriateness of each patient’s set of medicines.”

Payne works at the Cambridge Centre for Health Services Research in England. He and colleagues analyzed primary care data from more than 180,000 adults with long-term clinical conditions. They identified the numbers of regular medications each person was taking and linked this information to whether the person was admitted to the hospital in the following year.

Those with one medical condition who were taking 10 or more medications had a more than three-fold increase in the chance of having an unplanned hospitalization compared with those who took one to three medicines. Those with six or more medical conditions who used 10 or more medications increased their chance of admission by only 1.5 times compared with the group taking one to three medicines.

The study “is particularly important at times when doctors are caring for older patients and those with multiple medical conditions in whom multiple medications are often used,” Payne says.

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