Polypharmacy Problems

ExitCare ImagePolypharmacy problems can occur when you take more than one medicine. Your caregivers need to know about all the medicines you take. This includes vitamins, herbs, eyedrops, over-the-counter medicines, prescription medicines, and creams. Drug interaction problems can include:

  • Bad reactions or side effects. This can occur when certain drugs are taken together.

  • Reduced benefit from your medicines. This can occur if one drug reduces the ability of another drug to work.

Some drug interaction problems can be life-threatening. Your caregivers can coordinate a plan to help you avoid polypharmacy problems.


Polypharmacy problems are more likely to occur if:

  • You have many caregivers prescribing different medicines for you. This is a common problem for elderly patients.

  • You have a long-term (chronic) medical condition.

  • You have had an organ transplant.

  • You have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

  • You are undergoing chemotherapy.

  • You have hepatitis.

  • You have kidney disease or kidney failure.

  • You have significant heart disease or lung disease.

  • You are elderly.

  • You are taking medicines that have a low margin of error. This means there is little difference between the right amount of medicine and too much medicine. Medicines in this category include:

  • Warfarin.

  • Digoxin.

  • Lithium.

  • Theophylline.

  • Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors.

  • Seizure medicines.

  • Cyclosporine.


  • Choose one caregiver to be in charge of coordinating your medicines. Inform this caregiver about all medicines and supplements you take, even if they are prescribed by another caregiver.

  • Purchase all your medicines through the same pharmacy. The pharmacy keeps track of your medicines and possible drug interactions. They can notify your caregiver of potential problems.

  • Read the information given to you at your pharmacy.

  • Carry a list of all your medicines and their doses with you. This informs your caregivers, emergency department caregivers, and specialists about the medicines you are taking. This is especially important before you start a new medicine.

  • Use a system to keep track of which medicines you are taking and when. Many patients use a pillbox that separates medicines by the day and time they are supposed to be taken.

  • Carry a list of your chronic medical problems with you. Conditions such as kidney problems, liver problems, organ transplants, and chronic viral infections affect the way your body handles medicines.

  • Ask your caregiver or pharmacist if you have any questions about your medicines.


  • You have any problems that may be caused by your medicines.

  • You have chest pain.

  • You have shortness of breath.

  • You have an irregular heartbeat.

  • You have fainting spells.

  • You have shaking or tremors.

  • You have weakness or tiredness (lethargy).

  • You have a rash or swelling in any part of the body.

  • You have increased bleeding, rectal bleeding, vaginal bleeding, or you bruise easily.

  • You have abdominal pain.

  • You have nausea.

  • You have vomiting.