More than 50% of older adults hospitalized with heart failure are sent home with a pharmacy’s worth of medications that not only may be unnecessary, but may cause adverse interactions, according to a new study.

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center found that heart failure patients 65 years and older are regularly discharged from hospitals with 10 or more medications.

“High medication burden, also known as polypharmacy, is commonly associated with adverse events and reactions,” said Parag Goyal, MD, senior study author, in a press release. “As the treatment options for various conditions, including heart failure, expand and the population ages, it is becoming increasingly important to weigh the risks and possible benefits of multiple medications.”

The study, published in Circulation: Heart Failure , an American Heart Association journal, examined the medical charts of 558 adults, aged 65 and older, on Medicare and hospitalized for heart failure between 2003 and 2014. The patients were at one of the 380 hospitals taking part in the Reasons for Geography and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study.

The Study

Researchers counted the number of medications each patient was taking before entering the hospital and upon discharge. Each medicine was categorized for what it treats, such as heart failure and other types of heart disease, including statin drugs and aspirin for coronary heart disease. Medications for other conditions, like lung issues, kidney disease and type 2 diabetes were also noted.

The study found that 84% of people admitted to the hospital were taking five or more medications, while 42% were taking 10 or more. Patients left the hospital with more prescriptions than when they were admitted: An overwhelming 95% left with five or more medications, and 55% left with 10 or more prescriptions.

Polypharmacy Has Risks

Polypharmacy has become more common with the development of new heart failure medications. Between 2003 and 2006, 41% of heart failure patients were discharged from the hospital with 10 or more medications. That number rose to 68% for those hospitalized between 2011 and 2014. Most of the medications, researchers discovered, were not to treat heart failure or a heart condition.

Anyone with heart failure may experience adverse effects from medications, researchers acknowledge in the press release. But people taking 10 or more medications may be particularly at risk for negative interaction of prescription drugs.

Robert Calandra is an award-winning journalist, book author, and playwright. His work has appeared in national and regional magazines and newspapers.