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When do multiple medications become a problem for people with diabetes?

Project summary

Polypharmacy is when people are prescribed multiple medications at the same time. It’s common in people with diabetes, and while it can be helpful in many ways, it can also throw up challenges. Professor David McAllister wants to shed more light on polypharmacy in people with diabetes. He’ll study health records and interview people with diabetes and healthcare professionals to understand their experiences. This clearer picture could help to develop approaches to reduce polypharmacy and its harm. 

Background to research

Being prescribed five or more medications at the same time is known as polypharmacy, and this happens to lots of people living with diabetes. This could be for a number of reasons, like managing blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of diabetes complications, or treating other health conditions. For some people polypharmacy can really help them to live well with their diabetes, but for others it can cause problems. 

When people take many different medications, interactions between different drugs might lead to harmful side effects. Or it can be difficult to keep track of all the different doses and schedules. This adds even more of a burden to people with diabetes. There’s also a possibility of people just being prescribed more and more medications, when exploring other non-medical approaches to manage their health might be more successful. 

Research aims

Professor David McAllister and his team want to paint a clearer picture of polypharmacy and diabetes, while learning about the experiences of people with diabetes and healthcare professionals who care for them. 

They’ll analyse data from the Scottish Diabetes Register, which is an anonymous database of healthcare records of people with diabetes in Scotland. They’ll gather information about the various medications that people are prescribed, to understand the extent of polypharmacy in people with diabetes. They’ll also explore if any factors, such as age, deprivation, or other long-term health conditions, are linked inappropriate prescribing. 

Next, the researchers will interview people living with diabetes who take multiple medications from a wide range of ages and backgrounds, and healthcare professionals. They want to explore their experiences of polypharmacy, any problems they face and which aspects of polypharmacy, like taking multiple tablets or side effects, they find most burdensome, and how they’d feel about reducing medication. 

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Prof McAllister’s research will give us an urgently needed detailed look at polypharmacy in people with diabetes. By hearing directly from the people most affected, Prof McAllister hopes the insights could help to shift the management of polypharmacy and enable healthcare professionals to tailor people’s treatment better, benefiting not just their diabetes management, but also other health conditions.  

The project’s insights could also help to design new interventions intended to reduce inappropriate prescribing for people with diabetes, removing some of the burdens linked to polypharmacy.  

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