All of us know that keeping your doctor informed about all of the drugs you take is critical in assuring the efficacy and safety of the care you receive. Even the best of us using the Internet might overlook some critical aspect of drug interaction. Only your health care professional can assess what you should be taking and whether side effects are related to your drug regimen. If you aren’t sure, ask. That’s what we’re here for.

A recent study out of several universities in England brings home the point that even commonly used drugs, in this case medications that have anticholinergic properties, should be evaluated in future studies. Their study found that patients with brain or spinal injury at a neuro-rehabilitation unit, who used these drugs, had an average length of stay longer than patients who did not use these drugs. In fact, the use of these drugs may well have interfered with their ability to get the most from their rehabilitation.

Anticholinergic drugs are used to treat a broad range of common conditions, including bladder problems, depression, and insomnia. On neuro-rehabilition units, they are frequently used to manage symptoms, including pain and urinary incontinence. Side effects can include temporary cognitive impairment, dizziness, and confusion.

The study published in Brain Injury analyzed 52 patients and looked specifically at the ACB (anticolinergic drug burden.) As reported in Science Daily this week, the study’s lead author and Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia (UEA), said, “The findings suggest there may be a statistically significant relationship between ACB score and length of stay in a neuro-rehabilitiation unit following traumatic brain or spinal cord injury…

“While medications with ACB are often needed to treat common complications of brain or spinal cord injuries, cognitive impairment due to the medication may adversely affect a patient’s ability to engage in the rehabilitation process, increasing their length of stay in hospital.”

Whatever medications you might be taking are certainly worth an ongoing discussion with your doctor. Anyone diagnosed with a chronic disease is automatically under a new level of stress. If that patient tends to be independent in nature, it may be even more difficult to discuss symptoms, side effects, or “needs.”

But here’s what I tell my patients on a regular basis: “We are doing this together. You must tell me if anything changes or if you have any concerns. I can only do my best if you tell me.”

“What are Anticholinergic Medications,” American Thoracic Society,
University of East Anglia, “Common Medications Could Delay Brain Injury Recovery,” Science Daily, August 9, 2015.