If You're Over This Age, You're More Likely to Have Medication Side Effects

Don't brush off your symptoms as signs of aging.

As you get older, you'll probably start to notice a few new aches and pains. And while you might be quick to brush these off as the symptoms of one too many birthdays, just as often they're the result of something else entirely: medication side effects. Experts say that, at a certain age, a flurry of factors come into play that tend to result in more frequent and worsened effects from medication. Read on to find out what age puts you at higher risk (plus why it happens and what to look out for). And for more essential medical news, This OTC Medication Could Be Why You Can't Sleep, Experts Say.

People over 65 are more likely to have side effects.


senior man with his medicine bottles

While anyone can experience side effects from medication, experts say that they become more common over a certain age. Kirby Lee, a pharmacist and associate professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of California at San Francisco, told Market Watch that those over the age of 65 are most likely to experience side effects, and may experience them with greater severity than their younger counterparts.

"Prescribing medications for people 65 and older can be more challenging, because some drugs can be more toxic or cause more side effects than when you were younger," Lee explains. "As your body ages, it absorbs medications differently. They can be metabolized differently by your liver and excreted differently by your kidneys, so you may be more sensitive to some medications," he adds. And for more health news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Certain medication side effects are more common among those over 65.


Mature woman's morning routine - holding medicine and water. Photo of Mature woman with pill and glass of water at home. Mature woman sitting on bed, suffering from depression. Woman takes pill with omega-3 and holding a glass of fresh water.

Though there's a wide range of medication side effects you might experience over 65, there are some that stand out as particularly common among advanced-age patients, Sharron Orrange, MD, MPH, an associate professor of clinical medicine at USC, writes for GoodRx.

If you experience muscle pain or weakness, bone loss, nerve damage, high potassium levels, an injury by a fall, delirium, heart or gastrointestinal problems, or joint pain, consult with your doctor about whether these could be the result of your medication, she suggests. And for more on your medication routine, The FDA Just Issued a New Warning About These OTC Pain Meds.

Some of the most common side effects are due to drug interactions.


Senior woman looking at prescription bottles

After 65, you may experience increased side effects from medication because of changes in your biology, but experts also attribute the adverse effects to the sheer volume of medication those over 65 take. As your number of daily pills increases, so do the odds of drug interactions.

According to a report from AARP, U.S. adults over 65 take an average of 4.4 prescription medications per day; a 2016 study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology found that 23 percent of hospitalizations among older patients were likely the result of medication complications, including prescription drug interactions.

The U.S. is facing a shortage of geriatric specialists.


Doctor using stethoscope listening to senior patient breathing at her house - using face mask

Unfortunately, there's a dangerous shortage of geriatric specialists who can prescribe medication with seniors' particular needs in mind. According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Aging and Health, the population of U.S. adults over the age of 65 is predicted to increase 55 percent by 2030, but the number of geriatricians in the U.S. decreased nearly 25 percent between 2000 and 2010, a shortage that's likely to continue.

"Until you enter a nursing home or assisted living, you might not see a specialist good at treating older adults, because we don't yet have a health care system designed to take care of older adults," Chad Worz, a consultant pharmacist and president-elect of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists (ASCP), told Market Watch. Until then, you'll need to actively seek out doctors that are well-versed in senior care, or else risk dangerous side effects. And for more pressing news on your prescriptions, U.S. Officials Have a New Warning for You If You Take This Medication.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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