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High-Risk Medication

Some medications are called “high-risk” because they can cause harmful side effects including falls, confusion, drowsiness, and weakness. Not everyone reacts to medication in the same way. Your friends may take a medication that works well for them, but the medication may not work for you at all, even if you have the same medical condition. We recommend discussing with your primary care physician (PCP) how drugs may affect your body and about any possible negative side effects.

What is a High-Risk Medication?

A high-risk medication is one that may cause serious health problems if taken improperly, or taken with another drug or food item that it may interact with. Some examples include:

  • Medication that makes you drowsy, causes depression or confusion, or has other potentially dangerous side effects
  • Medication for one health condition that may make another health problem worse

Taking multiple medications together may affect how they work and may even be dangerous.

How Aging May Affect Your Treatment

As you age, your body begins to handle medication differently than it used to. If you are age 65 or older, you should take special care when taking your medication, even though you may feel perfectly healthy. With age, some people may experience changes in:

  • Sleep
  • Functional ability
  • Memory
  • Eating and digestion
  • How the body handles medication

In some cases, your kidneys and liver may need more time to process medication, and some medications may stay in your body longer. These changes may cause your medication to be stronger or weaker than it has been in the past, and you may be more likely to experience side effects. You also can experience side effects from taking multiple medications that may interact together in a way that is harmful to your body. You can work with your PCP to learn more about high-risk medications and make sure that your treatments and any medications you are taking are safe.

Taking High-Risk Medication

If your doctor prescribes you a high-risk medication, it does not mean you should not take it; it just means that you should take care and discuss any concerns with your doctor. Some things to remember:

  • Work with your doctor and your pharmacist to avoid having any issues with the medications you take.
  • Be organized with your medication and take it the way your doctor has prescribed.
  • Make a list of all your medications, including frequency and dosage.
  • Share your list with your doctor, especially when visiting a new doctor, and ask if you’ve been prescribed medication that you should not take or do not need, and about potential side effects.
  • Share your list with your pharmacist, and ask about any possible side effects or interactions between the medications you take.
  • Know your medications by name, understand what they do, and read the information sheets that come with them.

Talk to Your Doctor

Talk to your doctor about any high-risk medication you take. Simple cold medications or even herbs may interact poorly with high-risk medications. Some questions you may want to ask your doctor include:

  • What is my medication for?
  • How should I take my medication?
  • What are the benefits or side effects of my medication?
  • Even though I am not currently experiencing any side effects, am I at an increased risk for harmful side effects from taking this medication?
  • Is it possible to switch my medication to a safer alternative?
  • Can my medication increase my risk of falls?
  • Will my medication interact poorly with any other medication I’m taking?
  • Will my medication have an effect on any other medical conditions I have?