By Richard P. Holm MD
The other day an 80 plus year old woman came into my office asking if she could get off some of her pills. “I take too many,” she said, and I agreed with her. We were able to consolidate her medications and reduce her total number of pills from 14 to only 4.
We live in a pill-taking society. Some of this probably comes from the human tendency to find an easier way to do things. If we have a choice between walking or riding to work, we will likely ride. Similarly, if we have a choice between exercising or taking a pill to lower our blood pressure, we will likely take the pill. A pill is easier than a lifestyle change, and pharmaceutical companies are all too willing to sell us more pills.
Make no mistake, there is nothing wrong with taking certain medications; some significant medical conditions just call for it. However, as the conditions pile up, so can the medications. Sometimes it takes 2-5 different drugs to get a blood pressure down, or to control a diabetic’s blood sugar, or to help a weak heart pump better. If you happen to struggle with a combination of these or other conditions, you can end up taking a smorgasbord of pills.
Many drug companies work very hard to convince doctors and patients that there is a drug for almost every ailment. Think about how providers are asked to solve a new problem each time a patient comes in, and how simple and pleasing it would be if there was a pill to satisfy their every need.
We live in a culture that is inclined to over-rely on drugs and over-play their benefits; what’s worse is that we under-play their risks. This is a fact: the more drugs, the higher the likelihood for a significant side effect or a dangerous interaction between medicines. Additionally, there are many conditions that can be improved, or even reversed, with positive life style changes like diet and exercise. A pill might seem like the better and easier choice initially, but with the multiple side-effects and potential interactions, as well as the expense of multiple medications, it can end up costing you dearly in the long run.
I am not saying that all medicines are bad, and I’m not encouraging you to stop taking your medicines without careful direction by your doctor. I’m simply asking that you be aware of the number of medications your taking and the potential risks and interactions associated with them. The next time you see your provider, however, ask her or him to review the pills you take and try to get the number reduced. That would be good medicine.