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Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2014 Jul;78(1):170-83. doi: 10.1111/bcp.12314.

Prevalence, nature and potential preventability of adverse drug events - a population-based medical record study of 4970 adults.

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  • 1Nordic School of Public Health NHV, Box 12133, 40242, Gothenburg, Sweden; Section of Social Medicine, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Gothenburg, Box 435, 40530, Gothenburg, Sweden.



To estimate the 3 month prevalence of adverse drug events (ADEs), categories of ADEs and preventable ADEs, and the preventability of ADEs among adults in Sweden. Further, to identify drug classes and organ systems associated with ADEs and estimate their seriousness.


A random sample of 5025 adults in a Swedish county council in 2008 was drawn from the Total Population Register. All their medical records in 29 inpatient care departments in three hospitals, 110 specialized outpatient clinics and 51 primary care units were reviewed retrospectively in a stepwise manner, and complemented with register data on dispensed drugs. ADEs, including adverse drug reactions (ADRs), sub-therapeutic effects of drug therapy (STEs), drug dependence and abuse, drug intoxications from overdose, and morbidities due to drug-related untreated indication, were detected during a 3 month study period, and assessed for preventability.


Among 4970 included individuals, the prevalence of ADEs was 12.0% (95% confidence interval (CI) 11.1, 12.9%), and preventable ADEs 5.6% (95% CI 5.0, 6.2%). ADRs (6.9%; 95% CI 6.2, 7.6%) and STEs (6.4%; 95% CI 5.8, 7.1%) were more prevalent than the other ADEs. Of the ADEs, 38.8% (95% CI 35.8-41.9%) was preventable, varying by ADE category and seriousness. ADEs were frequently associated with nervous system and cardiovascular drugs, but the associated drugs and affected organs varied by ADE category.


The considerable burden of ADEs and preventable ADEs from commonly used drugs across care settings warrants large-scale efforts to redesign safer, higher quality healthcare systems. The heterogeneous nature of the ADE categories should be considered in research and clinical practice for preventing, detecting and mitigating ADEs.

© 2013 The Authors. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of The British Pharmacological Society.


adverse drug event; medical records; medication error; pharmacoepidemiology; prevalence

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