Study: women underreport medication use

Women need to talk – and doctors need to ask – about what medications patients are taking, or they could face serious health-related consequences, according to a recent University women’s health study.

The study of patients at a rural West Virginia women’s clinic, published last week in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, found some women underreported their use of prescription, herbal and over-the-counter drugs to their gynecologists.

“We need to do a better job than asking, ‘What medications are you taking?’ ” Timothy Tracy, a University pharmacy professor and director of the study, said.

The responsibility is not just on physicians but all health-care providers, from nurses to dentists, to ask specific questions regarding patients’ medication use, Tracy said.

“It works both ways,” he said.

Patients often do not consider over-the-counter and herbal remedies as drugs, Tracy said, or they do not mention prescriptions they receive from other physicians.

“Patients tend to associate medications with a certain health-care provider; if that wasn’t the provider they got it from then they don’t tell them about it,” he said.

Tracy said he plans to conduct a comparable study on urban women in Minnesota, which he expects will have similar results.

Sarah Morean, a University junior, said she does tell her doctor about any non-prescription medications she’s taking – if they ask.

Otherwise, “I wouldn’t think to tell them,” she said.

The study found 2.3 percent of the 567 women interviewed took St. John’s wort, an herbal remedy for depression, while using birth control. The herbal medication reduces the effectiveness of birth control, according to the study.

First-year student Marisa Marek, who is on birth control and has taken St. John’s wort, said she was unaware of the effects of the combination.

She said when she initially got her prescription for birth control she was asked if she was taking supplements that included zinc, which is not a component of St. John’s wort. But her doctor never asked about other herbal products, she said.

Another common combination the study notes is the use of the herb kava and antidepressants. Kava is a known depressant on the central nervous system that is taken to calm nerves and ease stress and anxiety.

Dr. June LaValleur, a University associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, said a lack of patient trust in physicians often causes a breach in communication.

In the study, pharmacy students interviewed patients one on one without doctors present.

“That’s important,” said LaValleur, who also said the study’s results did not surprise her.

“The data has been out there for a long time that over 50 percent of the population, especially women, takes herbal medications.”

Approximately 92 percent of the study participants took at least one prescription drug, and more than one-third took four or more. Meanwhile, 97 percent took at least one over-the-counter drug and more than half took four or more of those.

The same number took at least one herbal product, a category that included a range of herbs from peppermint to Mahuang, also known as ephedrine, which the Food and Drug Administration is working to ban.

Because different drugs or remedies wax and wane in popularity over time, Tracy said it is important to keep updated on what patients consume.

Unlike prescription drugs, herbal medications do not require FDA approval for safety or effectiveness.

Tracy also said previous data suggests women of higher socioeconomic status are more likely to use herbal medicines. The study found that while medication use of all kinds increased with age, the use of herbal products remained the same across income levels.