If you are a typical American, chances are about 50-50 that you take at least one prescription drug—and if you are upwards of 60, the odds are almost 2 in 5 that you take five drugs or more. Some may be lifesaving, especially for those with potentially deadly chronic conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure. But how many drugs in those mountains of pills add years to the lives of people who do not suffer from such illnesses?
“The majority of drugs approved probably aren’t life-extending,” states Lisa Schwartz, an internist and professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in New Hampshire who specializes in medical communication related to the benefits and harms of prescription drugs and screening tests. But clearly, some can extend lives.
[See: How Much Healthcare Do You Need?]
Take the massively popular class of heart drugs called statins. By lowering the level of “bad” LDL cholesterol in the blood, statins can cut the chances of a killer heart attack or stroke even in those who have never had one. That’s why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of statins for individuals at high risk because of age, family history, smoking, and elevated cholesterol, even if they have not shown outward symptoms of heart disease.
So how do we ensure that we are taking only the medications that we need to live a longer, healthy life—but aren’t harming ourselves in the process?
Obviously the best scenario would be to never get a chronic illness that requires medication. The World Health Organization reports that if more people were to stop smoking, lose weight, and exercise regularly, 80 percent of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes cases, and 40 percent of cancer cases would be prevented. “Certainly, people should focus on wellness and prevention before they get these illnesses,” states David Longworth, a doctor and chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s Medicine Institute. But once you have been diagnosed, he states these diseases need to be “effectively managed,” which involves medications and lifestyle changes.
[See: In Pictures: 11 Health Habits That Will Help You Live to 100]
If you are one of the millions of Americans on a prescription medication, you should know what you are taking and why, and discuss these basic points with your health-care provider. “The goal of drug therapy is always to maximize therapeutic benefits while decreasing potential harms,” states Murphy. “The most important question is, ‘How will this benefit me? What’s the measurable outcome?’” adds pharmacologist Joe Graedon, coauthor of more than 15 books, including Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them. Graedon also advises asking about a drug’s downsides. The risks and side effects may outweigh benefits, depending on your unique circumstance.
Consider, for example, antidepressants, the use of which increased almost 400 percent between 1998 and 2008, according to a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. “There are individuals for whom these drugs work exceptionally well—people who now know what it’s like to be happy,” Graedon says. But for others, these medications perform just barely better than a placebo and can have side effects ranging from sexual dysfunction to irritability. In the end, some patients may not mind side effects; for others, especially those who do not have life-threatening illnesses, such complications may be deal-breakers.
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Submited at Wednesday, May 16th, 2012 at 4:01 am on Uncategorized by hilman
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