Polypharmacy

People tend to have more illnesses as they age. As a result, many older adults with HIV take many pills for other conditions. Often, all the meds you take are needed. But a pill may be one too many if:

IT´S NOT THE RIGHT PILL

Some people don’t use the right pill for their problem. For example, some people use cold medicine to help them sleep, even if they don’t have a cold, because it makes them sleepy. This is wrong. Sleep aids, not cold medicines, should be used if you have problems sleeping.

THE PILL ISN´T NEEDED

Not every illness needs to be treated with meds. For example, back pain may get better with massages instead of drugs. Also, meds should only be taken for the length of time prescribed by your health care provider.

IT AFFECTS OTHER PILLS

One drug can affect another drug you’re taking, causing a “drug interaction”. Sometimes, one med can make another less active. Sometimes it can make the other drug too strong, causing unwanted side effects.

IT MAKES YOU SICK

Many meds have side effects that can lower your quality of life. If any of your meds are causing unpleasant side effects, ask your doctor what can be done.

Taking many meds makes it harder to manage them all. Also, the more pills you take, the more likely you are to have side effects. Finally, taking many meds can lead to drug interactions.

What you can do with your doctor

DO A “BROWN BAG” CHECK-UP

Put everything that goes into your mouth (prescription meds, over-the-counter meds like Tylenol or Nyquil, vitamins, herbs, even things like Rolaids) and put them all in a bag. Bring the bag to your next appointment and ask your doctor if any pill should be stopped or changed. Your pharmacist is also a good person to help you with this.

CHANGINNG YOUR MEDS

It’s important to tell your doctor if you stop taking one med or start another. This includes over-the counter meds, vitamins and herbs, supplements, etc. Your doctor can check for any drug interactions before you start the new pill.

Never stop your HIV meds without talking it over with your doctor first!

 

IF YOU FEEL SICK, ASK IF IT MIGHT BE ONE OF YOUR MEDS

If you get sick after starting a new med, ask if your illness might be a side effect. If a drug is making you sick, ask if you can switch to a different one.

What you can do yourself

CREATE YOUR OWN SYSTEM

Find the best way to take the right number of pills at the right time. For many, using an “organizer pillbox” is the best way to know if you have taken a dose or not. Among the pillboxes that can help are those that have compartments for each day of the week and for different times of each day. Some of them are very sophisticated, with timers and alarms and automatic dispensers to help you organize your dosages.

Setting an alarm on your phone is also very useful. Or take your dose along with something you do at the same time every day, like brushing your teeth.

Ask your doctor to set up an appointment with an adherence counselor, who can help you create the system that is best for you.

Avoiding missed doses is critical for your HIV meds. Missing more than two or three doses a month can lead to drug resistance. And once an HIV drug stops working for you, it will never work for you again.

TALK TO YOU PHARMACIST

Pharmacists are a great resource for people who are taking multiple meds and can answer many questions. Introduce yourself to a pharmacist and build a relationship so that she or he becomes familiar with your situation. Some pharmacies will sort your meds into plastic packages, called blister packs. All you have to do is open the packs and take the pills inside, no sorting needed.

If you can, find a pharmacy that has worked with people with HIV. They may have more experience with HIV drug interactions and with helping people take their HIV meds correctly.

A Sangarlangkam MD, R Havlik MD, S Karpiak PhD, J Appelbaum MD. Staying Healthy with HIV as You Age (2016). Published by the AAHIVM HIV Aging Consensus Project

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