Harvard Health Publications lists 41 of the most common adult health conditions/disorders. This article discusses some of the main medications used in the treatment of these conditions. Some of the conditions listed have been combined in an overall general category (e.g., numerous pain categories) or dropped altogether as they are not normally addressed with medication (e.g., foot issues). The descriptions of the treatments and medications in this article are taken from the books Mosby’s Medical Dictionary and The Complete Guide to Prescription and Nonprescription Drugs 2016-2017 as well as from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, MedicineNet.com, Mayo Clinic, and The National Institutes of Health.
Aging Eye, including Cataracts, Glaucoma, and Macular Degeneration
Numerous conditions related to the eyes can occur as a result of aging, including issues with decreasing flexibility of the lens in the eye that can produce nearsightedness (myopia) or farsightedness (hyperopia). Other conditions include the development of cataracts, glaucoma, or macular degeneration.
- Cataracts: These occur as a result of aging or injury that alters the composition of the lens of the eye. The lens becomes cloudy, and it is difficult for an individual to see. Other conditions that may result in the development of cataracts include genetic issues, past surgeries of the eye, and diabetes. While some individuals may benefit from the use of eye drops, the most common treatment for cataracts is surgical intervention.
- Glaucoma: Glaucoma develops as a result of damage to the optic nerve, which runs from the retina to the brain and transfers sensory information from the eye to areas of the brain to be processed. Glaucoma usually develops as a result of high pressure within the eye itself. Glaucoma can be treated with eye drops that can include:
- Prostaglandin analogs: This class is the most commonly used medications for glaucoma. These drugs increase the outflow of fluid from the eye. They have few side effects but may be associated with a change in eye color or a change in growth of the eyelashes. These include medications like:
- Lumigan (bimatoprost)
- Travatan (travoprost)
- Xalatan (latanoprost)
- Zioptan (tafluprost)
- Beta blockers: These are the second most common treatments for glaucoma, and their use decreases the production of fluid in the eye. Timolol (brand names: Timoptic, Betimol, and Timoptic-xe) is an example of eye drops in this class.
- Alpha agonists: These medications increase the drainage of fluid from the eye and also decrease the production of fluid. Alphagan P (brimonidine) is an example of a medication in this class. One of the drawbacks of using this medication is the development of allergic reactions.
- Macular degeneration: The macula of the eye is a small area of the retina that is involved in central vision (seeing objects in the central visual field) and the ability to ascertain fine visual detail. Macular degeneration occurs in individuals as a result of fatty deposits under the retina or the development of abnormal blood vessels in the retina. Individuals with this disorder experience blurriness, a distortion of visual objects in the center of the visual field, and even loss of central vision. AREDS formula is a special combination of vitamins and minerals that may decrease the progression of macular degeneration. Some individuals may require surgery.
There are numerous types of allergies that occur when the immune system has an abnormal reaction to some substance or condition. Medications used to treat allergies are often dependent on the type of allergy, but in general, the following medications are used:
- Antihistamines: Antihistamines block the release of histamines that occur in an allergic reaction and reduce itching and sweating. Over-the-counter antihistamines include Allegra (fexofenadine), Benadryl (diphenhydramine), and Alavert or Claritin (loratadine). One drawback to the use of antihistamines is that they often produce drowsiness. Some newer antihistamines like Allegra are less likely to produce drowsiness.
- Decongestants: Decongestants relieve nasal congestion. Over-the-counter decongestants include Sudafed PE (phenylephrine) and Sudafed 12 Hour (pseudoephedrine) . These drugs may increase blood pressure, result in insomnia, increase irritability, and restrict urination.
- Combination antihistamines and decongestants: Combination drugs, such as Alavert-D-12 or Allegra D, are also available.
- Steroids: Steroids, such as prednisone, can reduce the inflammation that is often associated with allergic reactions. They may also treat nasal congestion, swelling and itching. The downside to using steroids is their potential to increase blood pressure, fluid retention, and weight gain.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias
Dementia is an umbrella term that is used to describe a condition where an individual experiences a loss of their intellectual abilities, particularly memory. There are literally hundreds of different causes of dementia, including head trauma, depression, cerebrovascular disease, and diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
Many types of dementia, such as the dementia associated with very severe depression, can be reversed if they can be effectively treated. In other cases, like Alzheimer’s disease, there is no cure for dementia, but there are medications that may slow the progression of the disorder. The two major medications used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Aricept (donepezil): Aricept is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. This medication inhibits the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is believed to play an important role in memory. Aricept’s effectiveness is somewhat debated, and it cannot cure Alzheimer’s disease, but it may slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease if the medication is given to individuals who are in the very early stages of the disorder. Some of the side effects associated with the use of Aricept include:
- Appetite loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Namenda (memantine): Namenda reduces the activity of the neurotransmitter N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA). This is a subtype of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. It is believed that the drug works by halting the death of neurons that occur as a result of neuronal overstimulation in the brains of individuals who have advanced Alzheimer’s disease. Like Aricept, this drug cannot cure Alzheimer’s disease, but it may slow the progression of the disease. Some of the more common side effects associated with its use include:
- Irritability and insomnia
- Fainting spells
- Visual and auditory installations
Loving Life after Addiction: Guide Sections
Anemia is a condition that results from a lack of red blood cells or some type of dysfunction in the red blood cells. Anemia can lead to reduced oxygen flow, which can result in issues with organs and tissue damage in the body. There are more than 400 different types or causes of anemia, but anemia is generally the result of three conditions:
- Loss of blood as a result of bleeding or some internal injury
- Faulty red blood cell production (e.g., sickle cell anemia, bone marrow issues, and iron deficiency anemia)
- Destruction of red blood cells that occur with infections, toxins, or from other conditions, such as surgical complications or liver or kidney disease
- Treatment of anemia depends on the cause. For instance, iron deficiency anemia usually involves dietary changes with iron supplements. Other types of anemia may require blood transfusions. Some medications for anemia include:
- Droxia or Hydrea (hydroxyurea): This medication may be used in the treatment of sickle cell anemia to control pain and discomfort. It is an antineoplastic agent that destroys dysfunctional cells. It also may destroy functional cells.
- B complex-Fe ammon cit-FA: This is a combination of B vitamins and iron that may be useful in the treatment of some forms of anemia. Side effects may include nausea, diarrhea, irritability, and mood swings.
- Procrit or Epogen (Epoetin alfa): This is an injectable medication that can increase red blood cell production in individuals who have kidney problems. Individuals who have kidney issues that result in anemia may benefit from this medication.
Anxiety Disorders, including Panic Attacks and Phobias
Anxiety disorders are mental health disorders that present with the main symptom of dysfunctional anxiety. These include panic disorder (experiencing multiple and dysfunctional panic attacks) and phobias (extreme and unrealistic fears associated with objects, situations, or other conditions).
Being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder is a serious situation. These disorders are not due to normal issues with nervousness, the results of some other medical condition, or the direct result of use of drugs or alcohol. The cause of most of these disorders is unknown.
Medication can be used in the treatment of these disorders; however, in many cases, the medication should be a short-term approach while the person learns behavioral methods to help them cope with their anxiety. The primary medications used in the treatment of anxiety disorders include:
Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines are a large class of drugs that includes familiar drugs like Valium (diazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), etc. These drugs are very effective at reducing anxiety; however, the downside to long-term use of these drugs is that they have a very strong potential for the development of physical dependence. In addition, benzodiazepines are significant drugs of abuse.
Barbiturates: Prior to the development of benzodiazepines, barbiturate drugs, such as Seconal (secobarbital) and Nembutal (phenobarbital), were the primary medications used in the treatment of anxiety disorders. These drugs may still be used in some cases, but their use is even more likely to result in the development of physical dependence than the use of benzodiazepines. These are also significant drugs of abuse.
Arthritis, including Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis
There are over 100 different types of arthritis. Two of the major types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Osteoarthritis: OA occurs when the protective tissue at the ends of the bones (the cartilage) wears down over time. This condition gradually worsens. It is often associated with aging but can occur in some individuals at younger ages, particularly in athletes. Medications used to treat OA include:
Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
Hypertension is a condition where the force of the blood in the veins and artery walls is too high. This condition is associated with numerous health issues, including heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, etc. The approach to treating hypertension is most often to use a combination of diet, exercise, and, if needed, medication. Some of the medications that can be used to treat hypertension include:
Breast Health and Disease (Breast Cancer)
Breast cancer is most often treated with chemotherapy drugs like Trexall or Rheumatrex, (methotrexate), Taxol (paclitaxel), or Docefrez (docetaxel). These drugs suppress the growth of cancer cells in the body and also suppress immune system functioning and the growth of other cells. This can result in diarrhea, hair loss, joint and muscle pain, sores in the mouth or lips, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, constipation, and overall feelings of malaise.
Bursitis and Tendonitis
Bursitis results from the inflammation of the bursa, which are the fluid-filled pads that act as cushions in the joints. Tendinitis is inflammation of a tendon that can occur as a result of overuse or an infection. Antibiotics may be given if these conditions are caused by infections. Medications often include those used to treat osteoarthritis, such as Tylenol, NSAIDS, and, in some cases, even narcotic medications. In some instances, corticosteroids may be injected into the area.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is found in the cells of the body. Bad cholesterol or low-density lipoproteins are absorbed from certain foods. Individuals who have high cholesterol counts are at risk for the development of numerous health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, etc.
Similar to the treatment of high blood pressure, the treatment for high cholesterol is also a combination of diet, exercise, and, if needed, medication. The most common medications to treat high cholesterol are statins, such as:
One of the most common complaints coming from people who use statin medications is the development of muscle pain or muscle cramps. Other potential side effects may include the development of type II diabetes, liver inflammation, or liver damage.
Colds and Flu
The common cold and influenza have no formal cures. There are yearly vaccines that can be given to decrease the probability that one will get influenza. Treatment for the symptoms of the common cold or flu includes the use of NSAIDS, decongestants, and other pain-relieving medications listed above. In addition, cough, cold, and flu medications, such as medications that contain dextromethorphan (e.g., Nyquil, Vicks 44, etc.), can address coughing.
Colon Health and Disease, including Colon Cancer
Numerous dietary aids that are alleged to promote colon health are available on the market. Individuals who have colon cancer are often treated with chemotherapy drugs that include:
As with all the different types of chemotherapy medications, these drugs suppress the growth of cancer cells, the growth of other cells in the body, and immune functioning. They may increase bleeding, coughing, headache, pain, general malaise, issues with vision, numbness, etc.
Clinical depression is a severe mental health disorder that can have potentially fatal complications (e.g., suicidality). Treatment for depression most often consists of the use of psychotherapy and medications. The common medications used in the treatment of depression include:
There are numerous causes associated with the development of diabetes. Diabetes is associated with a dysfunction in the production of insulin, an important substance produced by the pancreas that converts food into glucose. The two major types of diabetes are type I and type II diabetes. Type I diabetes is most often identified in children and results from an individual’s pancreas not producing sufficient amounts of insulin. Type II diabetes is more often diagnosed in adults and often associated with aging or lifestyle factors.
All individuals with type I diabetes must receive insulin, most often via injection, from drugs such as Humalog or NovoLog. Individuals with Type II diabetes may not need insulin injections but may need the use of medications that might include:
Fatigue and Low Energy
Feeling tired or lacking energy represents a very common condition. Using medications to deal with fatigue and issues with low energy that represent normal variations in human experience is not recommended. There are numerous over-the-counter energy drinks that can increase feelings of energy. In addition, drinking substances that contain caffeine or using over-the-counter medications with caffeine (e.g., NoDoze) can counteract normal variations in energy levels; however, there are significant ramifications to overdosing on caffeine that can include issues with sleep, nervousness, and even hallucinations.
In cases where individuals have chronic conditions or injuries with associated fatigue, treatment of the condition can often reduce the individual’s lethargy, low energy, and fatigue. In some cases, stimulant medications may also be prescribed, such as:
These medications are often prescribed for other issues, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and even for individuals with sleep disorders. The downside to using prescription stimulant medications is that they are also associated with side effects that include:
The experience of bereavement (grief associated with loss) is a normal reaction that occurs in nearly everyone. In general, it is not suggested that individuals suffering from bereavement use medications to deal with their feelings, but instead use behavioral methods, such as relaxation training, mild exercise, and therapy to address their discomfort.
In cases where bereavement is extreme in its presentation or lasts significantly longer than what is considered to be “normal,” medications may be prescribed. These medications most often include antidepressant medications (see the section on depression) or anti-anxiety medications (see the section on anxiety disorders). When other issues like insomnia and fatigue occur, medications designed to treat these situations may also be prescribed (see the sections associated with sleep disorders and fatigue).
Having headaches associated with the cold or influenza is quite common, and headaches in these instances are often treated with the medications designed to treat the illness that is associated with a headache (see the section on colds and flu). Most often, individuals use over-the-counter medications to deal with headaches.
Headaches can be associated with numerous medical conditions that range from very serious conditions, such as increased intracranial pressure, to less serious and more normal variations in functioning, such as stress and tension. The treatment for headache depends on the situation that is causing the individual’s headache.
Most headaches are tension headaches that occur as a result of tension in the neck or muscles in the scalp. These are typically treated by over-the-counter medications or can be treated by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (see section on depression). Using stress management techniques can also treat tension headaches. In some cases, muscle relaxants may be prescribed, such as Soma or Vanadom (carisoprodol) or Skelaxin (metaxalone). These medications are not as effective pain relievers as many over-the-counter medications, but they may result in muscle relaxation in the head and neck that alleviates the headache.
Treatments for other various forms of headaches are outlined below:
There are no medications that can reverse the effects of chronic kidney disease, but several medications may slow the progression of any damage. Medications used in the treatment of kidney disease include:
Lung Diseases, including COPD
Lung cancer is often treated with chemotherapy via the following medications:
There are numerous chemotherapy medications. Their job is to curb the growth of cancer cells in the body, but as a side effect, they also interfere with other functions in the body, such as new cell growth and an individual’s susceptibility to other diseases.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an obstructive disease of the lungs that results in difficulty breathing. Disorders like bronchitis (inflammation of the bronchi in the lungs) and emphysema (damage to the lung sacks or alveoli) are forms of COPD.
COPD may be treated with oxygen or inhalers that are used to treat asthma (see the section on asthma). In some cases, corticosteroids can be prescribed for COPD, including:
Memory loss is often related to the co-occurrence of other medical conditions. Medications used in the treatment of memory loss are often associated with the treatment of the condition that produces the memory loss. Several conditions are worth mentioning:
The normal decline in memory functions that is associated with normal aging is not typically considered to be a treatable condition; however, in some cases, medications used in the treatment of dementia or stimulant medications for the treatment of fatigue may resolve some of these issues (see the sections on these disorders).
Menopause is the ceasing of menstruation that typically occurs in the mid-to-late 40s in many women. In most instances, menopause does not require formal treatment, but other symptoms associated with aging may be treated. Treatments may include:
Osteoporosis is a condition that occurs when a person’s body does not replace bone tissue. Often, it is not discovered until the person suffers a bone fracture, as osteoporosis increases the risk for breaks and fractures. Treatment often consists of dietary supplements and exercise.
Bisphosphonates are a class of drugs that help to prevent the loss of bone mass in an individual. These drugs include Fosamax (alendronate), Reclast (zoledronic acid), Actonel (risedronate), and Boniva (ibandronate).
The experience of pain is a subjective experience that is different for each individual. Pain is a common phenomenon that occurs in various areas of the body or organ systems. The type of medication used to treat pain depends on the origin of the pain and on the sensitivity and subjective experience of the individual. Some of the most common medications to treat pain include:
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition that is associated with significant decreases in the neurotransmitter dopamine in the central nervous system. The condition is primarily a movement disorder (bradyphrenia) resulting in significantly decreased reaction time, slowed movements, tremors, a shuffling gait, and rigidity; however, it also affects cognition, such that individuals suffer from bradycognition (the slowing of thoughts). It is also associated with issues surrounding the production of speech.
Numerous medications are used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, including:
Prostate Health and Disease, including Prostate Cancer
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is a disorder that consists of an enlarged prostate gland. BPH is fairly common in men as they get older, and the primary symptom is frequent urination. There are numerous over-the-counter and prescription medications that can help with these issues, including:
These medications may cause low blood pressure, fainting, dizziness, and headaches.
Prostate cancer may be treated with radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Radiation therapy uses the radiation to kill cancer cells, whereas chemotherapy consists of medications to kill cancer cells. Other options may include hormone therapy that either stops the body from producing testosterone, such as Lupron or Eligard (leuprolide) and Zoladex (goserelin), or medications that prohibit testosterone from influencing the growth of cancer cells, such as Casodex (bicalutamide). Hormone therapy may also result in erectile dysfunction, bone mass loss, weight gain, and hot flashes in men who take these drugs.
Numerous over-the-counter medications can be purchased to help an individual sleep. The major sleep disorders discussed in this section are insomnia and narcolepsy, which are often treated with prescription medications.
Insomnia is a disorder of sleep that may occur in the initial stages of sleep, in the middle of the night, or near the end stages of sleep. Insomnia is best defined as difficulty sleeping at a particular stage of the sleep cycle. There are numerous medications that are used to treat insomnia including:
There are often significant side effects associated with the use of sleeping aids and sedatives, such as lethargy, daytime drowsiness, memory loss, and the potential for abuse and the development of physical dependence.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder where individuals experience excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) that often results in them having very short episodes of involuntary sleep during the day. Individuals may often fall asleep briefly (for a few seconds to minutes) in the middle of an activity. These individuals often experience difficulty sleeping at night or hallucinations that occur when they are either falling asleep or waking up. In some cases, they may experience cataplexy (drop attacks) that resemble fainting spells or seizures. These drop attacks often occur during stressful moments where the individual simply becomes weak, may lose control, and falls to the floor even though they are still awake (they often cannot speak or open their eyes).
Medications to treat narcolepsy include:
Treatment of stress is often best handled through behavioral management techniques. Numerous medications can also be used for the treatment of stress, depending on the cause of the stress. The use of benzodiazepines (see the section on anxiety disorder), antidepressant medications (see the section on depression), sleep aids (see the section on sleep disorders), etc., may all be useful in the treatment of issues associated with stress.
For disorders that are labeled as trauma and stressor-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the symptoms are typically treated based on the needs of the individual. The same medications listed above in this section can be used along with behavioral therapy.
A cerebral vascular accident (CVA or stroke) is a severe condition that results when the veins and arteries in the brain are either blocked, significantly obstructing blood flow, or the vein or artery ruptures and blood spills into the central nervous system. Treatment may require surgery, lengthy rehabilitation, and medications. Some of the medications used in the treatment of CVA include:
Other medications may be used to treat symptoms associated with stroke, such as issues with pain (see sections on arthritis and pain), cognitive issues (see the sections on dementia and memory loss), and depression (see the section on depression).
Thyroid hormones (e.g., thyroxine [T4] and triiodothyronine [T3]) help to regulate an individual’s metabolism. Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is released by the pituitary gland and controls the hormone production of the thyroid. TSH levels can be used as a diagnostic guide as to what type of thyroid disorder an individual is experiencing. Individuals with hyperthyroidism have lower levels of TSH in their blood, whereas individuals with hypothyroidism have higher levels of TSH. This is because during hypothyroidism, the pituitary gland attempts to increase the activity of the thyroid, whereas the opposite occurs in hyperthyroidism. In terms of the production of thyroid hormones, a hyperactive thyroid produces an excess of thyroid hormones, whereas a hypoactive thyroid produces a deficient of thyroid hormones.
Hyperthyroidism can be addressed with surgery, radiation treatment, or medications. Medications that slow the production of the thyroid gland may include:
Propylthiouracil and methimazole are termed antithyroid drugs that may also produce serious liver damage.
Hypothyroidism is often treated with lifelong thyroid replacement medications that are synthetic forms of thyroid hormone, such as the drugs Synthroid, Tirosint, or Levoxyl (levothyroxine). These drugs are associated with few side effects but may produce nervousness, irritability, or chest pain.
Thyroid cancer can be treated with surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.
Urine and Bladder Problems
The most common urinary complaint is associated with a condition known as overactive bladder condition. This results in bladder contractions that make an individual feel as if they have to urinate very often when in fact the bladder is not full.
Anticholinergic medications are often used to treat overactive bladder syndrome. Some of these include:
These drugs are associated with side effects that most often include constipation and dry mouth. Some individuals may experience blurry vision, heartburn, rapid heartbeat, flushed skin, confusion, and issues with memory.
Bladder cancer can be treated with surgery, radiation treatment, and/or chemotherapy.