“The Pill Go Round”

A recent report by Professor Sarah Harper of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, highlights the fact that we are too quick to use pills to solve our medical problems rather than making lifestyle changes.

I have written about this in my Pilly Galore blogs (click in the TAG CLOUD on “PILLS” to find them).

A follow-up article in the Daily Telegraph dated 19th March 2012, gives an excellent perspective on this, from a GP’s point of view – it’s written by Max Pemberton.   He outlines some of the issues as:-

  • “Patients want to feel their problem has been listened to and feel shortchanged if they don’t get a prescription”
  • “There are a growing number of drugs for everyday conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol and consequently these get used as treatment”
  • Taking one drug can lead to having to take another and another”

Doctor Pemberton illustrates his point using his experience with an 80-year-old patient who was rather like Pilly Galore in her implicit faith in doctors.  I’ll call her “Unlucky Mabel” and you will see why as her story unfolds.

Unlucky Mabel had trouble sleeping, so she went to her GP and was given a sleeping pill.  It should have been called a “sleeper pill” because it had lots of unintended consequences:-

  • One side effect was incontinence so Unlucky Mabel got a pill for that too;
  • Another problem was constipation and Unlucky Mabel got two more drugs for that;
  • Blurred vision was a third added benefit of the sleeping pill but not to worry, Unlucky Mabel got eye drops for that.

Then Unlucky Mabel got really unlucky, when she was drowsy from her sleeping pills, she had a fall and broke her hip.   After the operation to mend her fracture, Unlucky Mabel got pills to strengthen her bones and more pills for the heartburn those pills caused.

You could not make this story up if you tried so I am grateful to Doctor Pemberton for telling it.

There again, from my own experience, this story is not so unusual.  Many older people take a cocktail of pills every day.   In our quick-fix go-away Health Service, a pill is the every day answer to a thousand problems.   I am sure every GP’s practice has its “Unlucky Mabel” stories.

Look on the good side, although Unlucky Mabel had a bad year, her treatment kept a great many health professionals employed :-

  • Researching the drugs to cure Unlucky Mabel’s sleeping problem,  and her incontinence,  and her constipation,  and her blurred vision,  and later on her weak bones  and her heartburn.
  • Marketing of the drugs to doctors who have to travel to far off medical centres of excellence like Mauritius or Honolulu, where they are told of the virtues of all these new drugs and that occasionally, they have a few side effects.
  • Dispensing the pills through GP’s, practice nurses, locum doctors and all the people employed in high street chemists.
  • And if all else fails, the NHS and all its consultants, registrars, junior doctors, nurses, auxiliaries and managers are all there to pick Unlucky Mabel up.
  • Finally, there are the researchers in universities who are able, with great hindsight and more distant objectivity, to see what those more wrapped up in Unlucky Mabel treatment can’t.

What a pity no-one asked Unlucky Mabel!


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1 Response to “The Pill Go Round”

  1. davidwfreeman237 says:

    davidwfreeman237 says:

    May 8, 2012 at 6:48 am

    Too true and at least a good dose of cynasisium. Drugs are good when used in the right doseage: However being confused and suffering from the on set of demenia, and ones partner may also be on a drug reigime, this may lead one into the placebo effect ‘That if their drugs cure them ‘ Why should I not try them, and use them rather than my percribed drugs, to cure m?.
    I think old age while it is a blessing can be a curse as ones mental facalties become foggy, and not clear thinking. The other thought is that as one ages one asummes that my/our personal doctor knows all our/my illnesses and ailments and he knows best? However do we listern to his questions? or have we gone there for a talk and a friendly ear-The Doc is a busy man, and has many calls on his time.
    It is a curse we have to remain alert, and be gentle with the younger folk and not get cantankerous of beligerant, as they do their best to help us on our way.
    Pilly Galore there is a little of that in all of us.

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