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Common Medications That Cause Older Americans to Be Hospitalized

According to an article on USAToday.com, there are four common medications that are responsible for sending an estimated 100,000 seniors to the hospital from drug reactions.

“Of the thousands of medications available to older patients, a small group of blood thinners and diabetes medications caused a high proportion of emergency hospitalizations for adverse drug events among elderly Americans,” said lead study author Dr. Daniel Budnitz, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s medication safety program.

According to the article, two medicines for diabetes and two blood-thinning agents account for two-thirds of the drug-related emergency hospitalizations.

CDC researchers, working with a nationally representative database, identified more than 5,000 cases of drug-related adverse events that occurred among people aged 65 and older from 2007 to 2009. They used these numbers to make their estimates for the whole population.

According to the study, 48 percent of the hospitalizations occurred among adults 80 and up, with 66 percent as a result of unintentional overdoses.

Among the blood thinners, warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven), used to treat blood clots, was involved in 33 percent of emergency hospitalizations.

Insulin, used to control blood sugar in diabetic patients, was involved in 14 percent of cases.

Antiplatelet drugs such as aspirin and clopidogrel (Plavix), used to prevent blood clots, were involved in 13 percent of cases.

Oral hypoglycemic agents (diabetic medications taken by mouth) were involved in 11 percent of cases.

With antiplatelet or blood thinning drugs, bleeding was the main problem. For insulin and other diabetes medications, about two-thirds of cases involved changes in mental status, including confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures.

Dr. Michael Steinman, an associate professor of medicine in the division of geriatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, said, “This study highlights a few key issues that are important for doctors and patients to be aware of. The first is that serious adverse reactions to drugs are common among older people, particularly among people over 80. But even those 65 and older are at substantial risk of having an adverse effect from their drugs.”

To reduce risks, Steinman said that doctors and patients need to discuss whether the drug is truly necessary. For people with very high blood pressure or blood sugar, Steinman said, “The answer is almost always ‘yes,’ you should treat it. But if you have only mildly elevated blood pressure or blood sugar, the benefits of treating it versus the harms start to shirt. Do these drugs really provide enough benefit that it’s work taking them?”
Physicians should consider a person’s age, overall health, and other medications they take.