Aging Parents and Medication Side Effects
Recently my dad, who takes a number of blood pressure and heart medications, began to experience nosebleeds –they seemed to begin out of the blue. Family members and friends kept offering explanations for why the nosebleeds were occurring. Twice, when he had difficulty stopping the bleeding, Dad went to the emergency room at the local hospital.
The puzzle was not solved until four months later, when an alert physician looked over Dad’s medication list and pointed out that one of his blood pressure medications was known to interact with another medication, potentially causing nosebleeds. The doctor switched Dad’s medication, and the nosebleeds stopped. Looking back, we recognized that the nosebleeds began after his physician adjusted some of his prescriptions.
A good starting place to learn about medications is Talk to Your Doctor, a website featuring prescription information and consumer education on pharmacy issues. Designed for seniors and located online at the University of Chicago biological sciences department, the site is simple and uncluttered, easy to navigate, and allows a user a choice of font sizes.
One frustration for people as they grow older is the need to take multiple medications to treat several chronic conditions. Multiple medications can interact with one another, causing unpredictable or unexpected symptoms, just like my dad’s nosebleeds.
Talk to Your Doctor answers medication questions, addresses drug costs, and discusses the challenges of taking multiple medications, including over-the-counter meds. The most interesting pages focus on polypharmacy (when an individual takes multiple medications prescribed by multiple physicians and those drugs have the potential to interact, causing unexpected symptoms). A link to the Wikipedia entry on polypharmacy provides background reading.
Talk to Your Doctor also features links to several other educational sites including Drugs@FDA and DrugWatch, two web locations that provide additional information on medications prescribed by physicians.
To be safe each senior, and when necessary, every family member or caregiver, needs to be an educated consumer. It is not necessary to surf the web learning about about every old or new medication and its side effects; our doctors are the knowledgeable ones about what works and what does not. However, each individual needs to be alert for sudden and unnexpected changes that might indicate that a drug interaction is occurring.
My dad kept asking questions instead of listening to speculation or taking the advice simply to ignore his nosebleeds. His strategy paid off, and he is healthier.