As we grow older, the likelihood of developing chronic conditions, and hence the need for chronic medicines, unfortunately tends to increase. “It is estimated that up to 40% of all prescriptions for medication worldwide are for senior citizens,” said Gerda Potgieter, fund manager at Medipost Pharmacy.

The training pharmacists receive equips them to identify the types of medication that are likely to have adverse effects if used together, and this should be kept in mind particularly in the case of elderly patients.

“The good news is that today many of these conditions, once diagnosed, can be effectively managed with prescribed medication.” Chronic medicine may be prescribed for conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, amongst others. If these conditions are not adequately controlled through consistent and correct use of prescribed medications, such conditions may result in serious complications.

“The way our bodies metabolise, or process, medicine changes as we get older and often senior citizens are more sensitive to the effects of medication. The liver and kidney function may be impaired, which can lead to an increased level of bioavailability of a drug, leading to normal drug doses having potentially toxic effects. This can also lead to an increased risk of medication interactions and more pronounced effects of such interactions,” said Potgieter.

The training pharmacists receive equips them to identify the types of medication that are likely to have adverse effects if used together. However, it is the responsibility of an individual’s treating doctor to consider the medical history and other relevant factors of their patient when prescribing medication.

“Sometimes people use over-the-counter medication in the hope that their ailment will be cured, however these drugs can have the effect of masking symptoms resulting in a delay in the person consulting a medical professional about the underlying cause of their symptoms,” she says. “Many people do not even think of telling their doctor or pharmacist that they are taking over-the-counter medication or herbal remedies, however these types of non-prescription health aids may affect the way our bodies respond to prescribed medication and also carry a risk for interactions,” she adds.

According to Potgieter, the potential for ‘natural’ supplements and even foods to interfere with prescription medication should not be underestimated.

Calcium in dairy products can reduce the effectiveness of certain antibiotics.

Green leafy vegetables with a high vitamin K content, such as spinach and Romaine lettuce, may impact blood-thinning properties of warfarin.

Ginger, garlic, and cranberry can also interact with warfarin, and may lead to bruising or bleeding.

Grapefruit can affect the way the body processes some medications, including blood pressure medicine. 

Liquorice may interfere with the beneficial effects of certain heart medication or increase the risk of toxic effects.