BSC-led study shows that women are more likely than men to be recommended drugs that may cause harmful interactions

29 April 2024

As the population ages, the number of medications prescribed is on the rise, increasing the risk of drug interactions that affect patients' quality of life

The study was made possible by analysing data from six million patients in Catalonia, the United States and Brazil on the MareNostrum supercomputer

A study led by researchers at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center - Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS) has found that women are more likely to be recommended drugs that can cause harmful interactions. The research analysed the electronic medical records of six million patients in Catalonia, Indianapolis (USA) and Blumenau (Brazil) in order to better understand the patterns of drug co-administration, especially in cases where these drugs interact.

This work is the result of collaboration between scientists from BSC, the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (Portugal), Binghamton University (USA), and the University of Blumenau (Brazil), and was possible thanks to the data provided by Sistema d'informació per al Desenvolupament de Investigació en Atenció Primària (SIDIAP), the Instituto Regenstrief (USA) and the Pronto health information system (Brazil), and the computing capacity of the Marenostrum supercomputer at BSC.

The combined intake of some drugs can reduce their efficacy, as is the case of oral contraceptives such as ethinylestradiol, which, when administered together with antibiotics such as amoxicillin, can reduce their effectiveness and increase the risk of unwanted pregnancies. In other cases, these interactions can be much more severe, as happens with the co-administration of tramadol and citalopram, which can cause serotonin syndrome. Both interactions are more frequent in women.

"Due to the continued aging of the population, the percentage of people suffering from two or more chronic diseases (multimorbidity) is increasing, resulting in more medications prescribed and thus a higher risk of drug interactions. This affects patients' quality of life and increases healthcare costs," explains Jon Sanchez, co-lead author of the article and researcher in the Computational Biology group in the Department of Life Sciences at BSC.

This increase in the prevalence of drug interactions linked to the rise in the number of diseases makes it inevitable in many cases to recommend drugs to treat different ailments despite the risk of interactions between them.

In the study, we have observed that, in general, women have a higher risk of co-administration of drugs, including those that, when given together, can generate harmful effects. One of the most prominent examples is the very high rate of co-administration of omeprazole with diazepam or clonazepam, which is, in fact, the most frequent interaction in Catalonia and Blumenau, with a prevalence almost twice as high in women as in men.

Finally, the study highlights that specific interactions that are very frequent in some health systems are not so in others. The clearest examples are the combination of bisphosphonates (used to treat osteoporosis) and anti-inflammatory drugs, or omeprazole and diazepam or alprazolam, which are very frequent in Catalonia and almost not observed in Indianapolis, and which always present a higher prevalence in women. The case of omeprazole is of particular interest since we observed that in Catalonia, it is the proton pump inhibitor most frequently administered with diazepam, while in Indianapolis, other drugs are used with fewer pharmacological interactions described, such as pantoprazole, which could potentially avoid a high number of interactions.


Reference: There is a higher frequency of the recommendation of drugs that may produce harmful interactions in women than in men.

DOI: 10.1186/s12916‐024‐03384‐1