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Common medicines linked to brain decline

24th June 2011

UK researchers have found a link between drugs commonly used for conditions such as heart disease, depression and allergies and a greater risk of death and declining brain function.

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Research carried out at the University of East Anglia and published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found the impact was more significant in patients taking multiple courses of medication.

They said half of people over 65 were prescribed these drugs.

Scientists looked at medicines which affect a chemical in the brain – acetylcholine.

While the neurotransmitter is vital for passing messages from nerve cell to nerve cell, many common drugs interfere with it as a side effect.

The team focussed on 80 drugs and rated them for the “anticholinergic” activity, rating patients from one to five on the severity of the drugs they were taking.

Between 1991 and 1993, 20% of patients with a score of four or more died. Of those taking no anticholinergic drugs only 7% died.

Dr Chris Fox, who led the UEA research said: “Clinicians should conduct regular reviews of the medication taken by their older patients, both prescribed and over the counter, and wherever possible avoid prescribing multiple drugs with anticholinergic effects.”

It has been acknowledged that the study could not say the drugs caused death or reduced brain function, merely that there was an association.

The Royal College of GPs said the findings of the study were important but patients should not worry, they should discuss it with their doctor or the pharmacist, and not stop taking medicines without taking advice first.

 

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