5 things to consider when taking multiple medications

As you get into your 60s, the likelihood of having health issues goes up. Roughly two-thirds of people ages 65 and older have 2 or more chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.1 So it’s not surprising that about one-third of people in their 60s and 70s are taking at least 5 prescriptions.2 That does not include any over-the-counter (OTC) medications and supplements.

As people’s prescription counts increase over time, the potential of problems like drug interactions or side effects may increase. 2 There are steps you can take to help prevent these problems, though.

Here are 5 of the most common pitfalls — and ways to help avoid them.

1. Not mentioning all the prescription and OTC medications you are taking

It’s easy to forget to mention an OTC medication you take because it can seem like no big deal. But even OTC drugs can cause a reaction when mixed with certain prescriptions drugs, notes Maier.

Here’s an example: Heartburn remedies that are available over-the-counter, such as omeprazole, can lower the acidity of the stomach.3 But certain drugs are better absorbed in an acidic environment.4, 5 If your provider doesn’t know that you’re taking omeprazole, “that can cause some real issues with how well your [medications] are going to work,” says Maier.

How to avoid it: Each time you visit a provider, bring a list of all the medications you take, including prescription drugs, OTC medications, and any supplements and vitamins. That way, the provider will be aware of everything you take when prescribing or recommending a new medication.

The list of medications you take should include the name of the medication and these 4 details:

  • The dose: For example, how many milligrams
  • When to take it: For example, once in the morning, or every 12 hours
  • How to take it: Is it a tablet, a cream, or drops? Do you need to take it with food or water?
  • Who prescribed it and why: List the specialist’s name and the condition the medication is for

Make sure the list also includes any prescription or OTC medications you take only as needed, such as migraine medications. Need a guide to help store all of your medication information? Download this worksheet from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and fill it in.6

UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members with prescription drug coverage can download the UnitedHealthcare® app to view drug coverage details and more.

2. Your providers may not be communicating with each other

If you only see a primary care provider (PCP), that person may be able to stay on top of your medications. But if you’re also seeing a specialist — such as an endocrinologist for diabetes or a cardiologist for a heart condition — they may not be aware of the medications you are taking. It’s important to make sure providers are communicating with each other about medications you may be taking.

How to avoid it: Make sure to share the list of all the medications you take, as well as provider contact information, with each provider and specialist you see. That way, all of them will be aware of everything you take.

Another option: If it’s possible, try to use as many providers as you can who are in the same health system, suggests Maier. They should have access to the same electronic records. “That’s another opportunity for those providers to collaborate,” she says.

3. Using multiple pharmacies

Shopping around may save money, but it also could increase the chance that a prescription filled in one place will interact badly with a medication from another. This could occur if pharmacists are not aware of everything you take.

How to avoid it: Try to use a single pharmacy. If you are able to get all your medications from the same pharmacy, the pharmacist will be aware of everything you take, as long as you also share your OTC medications. This may help reduce the risk of potential drug interactions. 7 Having 1 dedicated pharmacy may also help if you have specialists who practice in different health systems.

In that case, the pharmacy may serve as a single source of information. “You’ll have at least one member on your health care team who knows every medication that you’re on,” Maier says.

If you still need to use multiple pharmacies, make sure that each one knows which medications the others fill, as well as the OTC medications you are taking. A good way to do this is to have a medication review with each pharmacist. (More on that below…)

4. Not talking to every pharmacist

If you are using multiple pharmacies, you may think that talking with one pharmacist is enough. Or even with a single pharmacy, that there’s no need to chat again if you’ve already had the conversation. But when you add in a new medication, it’s possible there may be new information you should be aware of.

How to avoid it: Talk to your pharmacist about any new medications or if you have questions about an existing medication. Bring the list of prescription and OTC medications, supplements and vitamins you’re taking, says Maier. Pharmacists are experts on how medications work and interact with each other.

5. Not reading all the medication information

The booklets that come with prescriptions can seem like throwaways — and they’re not easy to read. But they spell out all the side effects and possible drug interactions.

How to avoid it: Read the information your pharmacy provides with your medication. Talk to the pharmacist or your provider if you have any questions.

The bottom line: The pharmacist can be a guide to help you avoid medication mix-ups. And that may give you peace of mind, whether you take 1 prescription or many

Managing your medications is important to overall health. Already a UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage member with prescription drug coverage? 

Already a UnitedHealthcare® Medicare Advantage member?

Managing medications is important to overall health. Have prescription drug coverage? Review benefits and find ways to help lower medication costs.