Allergy to medicines 'is killing thousands'

Nearly 3,000 patients have died in the past three years as a result of taking medicines intended to help them, official figures show. Thousands more have been hospitalised after suffering harmful side-effects or serious allergic reactions to prescription drugs and other medications.

Almost half of the deaths occurred last year, while the number of reported adverse drug reactions has increased by 45 per cent over a decade. Growing numbers of patients taking aspirin and other medications for chronic illness such as heart disease could be fuelling the trend, experts suggest.

A total of 964 UK patients died because of suspected drug reactions in 2006, more than 200 after lengthy stays in hospital. A further 4,432 patients were also hospitalised but survived, figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats show.

Adverse drug reactions (ADRs) describe the unwanted, negative consequences associated with the use of any medications, as a result of medical error or otherwise. They represent a considerable burden on the NHS, accounting for 1 in 16 hospital admissions, at a cost of up to £466 million a year.

Patients admitted because of ADRs stay an average of eight days in hospital, research suggests, meaning that at any one time they take up the equivalent of up to seven 800-bed hospitals in England alone. Over the past three years, 2,846 patients died as a result of a suspected ADR, while 13,643 patients were hospitalised, the figures show.

Drugs most commonly implicated in adverse reactions include low-dose aspirin, diuretics, the anticoagulant drug warfarin and other nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs. The most common problem associated with these medications is gastrointestinal bleeding, which can be fatal. But many of the reactions were likely to be because of incorrect dosages or known interactions of the drugs and as such were avoidable, research suggests.

Source - Times

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