FYI Daily

Just 4 Meds Lead to Two-Thirds of ER Drug Visits for 65-plussers

Last updated: Nov 25, 2011


Beware if your loved one is taking one of a handful of medications for heart conditions or diabetes. Just four drugs are responsible for two-thirds of all emergency-room visits for adverse drug reactions in those over 65, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study.

CDC researchers have identified these drugs as leading to the majority of drug-related emergency hospitalizations, which account for 100,000 visits by older adults each year:

  • Warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven), a blood thinner used to treat blood clots, involved in 33 percent of emergency hospitalizations.
  • Insulin, used to control blood sugar in those with diabetes, involved in 14 percent of cases.
  • Antiplatelet drugs such as aspirin and clopidogrel (Plavix), used to prevent blood clots, involved in 13 percent of cases.
  • Oral hypoglycemic agents (diabetes medications taken by mouth), involved in 11 percent of cases.

Nearly half of the hospitalizations were in adults ages 80 and up. Two-thirds of the ER visits were because of accidental overdosing. Among U.S. adults ages 65 and up, 40 percent take five to nine medications and 18 percent take 10 or more, according to the study authors. USA Today notes that prior research has found that older adults are nearly seven times more likely than younger people to have an adverse drug event that requires hospitalization.

Doctors recommend being aware of side effects so you can note signs of a problem early. Other advice: making sure meds are absolutely necessary and having a good tracking system for taking them.