Common Prescription Drugs 'A Risk to Health of Over-60s' STUDY LINKS SIDE-EFFECTS TO MENTAL DECLINE OR EVEN DEATH

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Byline: MADELEINE BRINDLEY

WORRYING new research has linked the side-effects of scores of common prescription medicines to potentially life-threatening conditions in the over-60s.

A study suggests hundreds of thousands of older people who take the drugs, for conditions such as glaucoma, depression and heart problems, could be at increased risk of mental decline and even death.

Experts have urged people not to suddenly stop taking prescribed medicines in wake of the findings.

Dr Tim Chico, a clinician scientist and honorary consultant cardiologist, at the University of Sheffield, said: "All drugs have possible side-effects, but the results of this study should not lead anyone to stop current medications without discussing this with their doctor first.

"Before starting any drug, it is important for the doctor and patient to discuss the possible benefits of the treatment, compared with the potential downsides, so that the patient can make an informed decision.

"As a cardiologist, many of the drugs I use (such as beta-blockers) have been definitely proven to make people with heart disease live longer, so it''s important to balance these proven benefits against the risk of side-effects."

The research study, which is published today, involved 13,000 people and looked at the risks from over-the-counter and prescription drugs, including some antihistamines, painkillers, blood thinners and eye drops for glaucoma.

The researchers from the University of East Anglia analysed more than 80 drugs for "anticholinergic activity" - a potential side-effect which affects the brain by blocking a key neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which helps nerve cells to communicate.

The drugs were ranked from one to three according to the strength of this activity - drugs scoring one have a mild effect, two a moderate effect and three caused the most serious concern.

Taking a combination of drugs - such as four drugs scored at one each - increased the risks, with experts saying the threshold for damage in patients was a total score of about four.

The risk was cumulative, based on the number of drugs taken and the strength of each drug's effect.

Some of the most dangerous (score three) drugs are commonly available and include the antihistamines chlorphenamine (used in the brand Piriton) and promethazine (used in Phenergan), anti-depressants amitriptyline (used in several brands) and paroxetine (used in Seroxat) and the incontinence drug oxybutynin (used in Ditropan). …