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Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2016 Sep 23;113(38):627-633. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2016.0627.

Polypharmacy-an Upward Trend with Unpredictable Effects.

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Joint first authors, Institute for General Medicine and Inter professional Care, Tübingen University Hospital, Tübingen, Department of Clinical Pharmacology, Tübingen University Hospital, Tübingen.
Institute for General Medicine and Inter professional Care, Tübingen University Hospital, Tübingen.



Guideline-oriented treatments can lead to polypharmacy, i.e., the simultaneous long-term use of multiple drugs. Polypharmacy mainly affects elderly patients. The goal of this review is to survey the current scientific evidence about polypharmacy, focusing on clinical endpoints, and to point out implications for medical practice and research.


This selective literature review is based on pertinent publications that were retrieved by a selective search in PubMed employing the terms "polypharmacy AND general practice." Selected references were considered as well.


In Germany, polypharmacy currently affects approximately 42% of persons over age 65, with an ongoing upward trend. 20-25% of these patients receive potentially inappropriate drugs. Approximately 86% of the daily doses of drugs taken by persons over age 65 are prescribed by general practitioners. There is inconsistent evidence on the question whether polypharmacy affects clinical endpoints such as mortality. It cannot be determined with certainty whether polypharmacy itself, or the underlying multimorbidity, is the reason for worse clinical outcomes. Lists, instruments, and guidelines such as PRISCUS (a list of potentially inappropriate drugs for elderly patients), FORTA (Fit fOR The Aged), MAI (the Medication Appropriateness Index), and the Hausärztliche Leitlinie Multimedikation (a German-language guideline on polypharmacy for general practitioners) can help physicians take care of patients who are taking multiple drugs. It has not yet been proven, however, that their use has any effect on clinical outcomes.


The decision whether to keep giving a drug or to discontinue it must always be made individually on the basis of current treatment goals; drug lists and a pertinent general practitioners' guideline can be useful aids in decision-making. Efforts to pay more attention to multimorbidity and polypharmacy in future studies and guidelines are deserving of support.

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