Variation of the prevalence of pediatric polypharmacy: A scoping review

Courtney Baker, James A. Feinstein, Xuan Ma, Shari Bolen, Neal V. Dawson, Negar Golchin, Alexis Horace, Lawrence C. Kleinman, Sharon B. Meropol, Elia M. Pestana Knight, Almut G. Winterstein, Paul M. Bakaki

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Purpose: To examine the range of prevalence of pediatric polypharmacy in literature through a scoping review, focusing on factors that contribute to its heterogeneity in order to improve the design and reporting of quality improvement, pharmacovigilance, and research studies. Methods: We searched Ovid Medline, PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, Ovid PsycINFO, Cochrane CENTRAL, and Web of Science Core Collection databases for studies with concepts of children and polypharmacy, along with a hand search of the bibliographies of six reviews and 30 included studies. We extracted information regarding study design, disease conditions, and prevalence of polypharmacy. Results: Two hundred eighty-four studies reported prevalence of polypharmacy. They were more likely to be conducted in North America (37.7%), published after 2010 (44.4%), cross-sectional (67.3%), in outpatient settings (59.5%). Prevalence ranged from 0.9% to 98.4%, median 39.7% (interquartile range [IQR] 22.0%-54.0%). Studies from Asia reported the highest median prevalence of 45.4% (IQR 27.3%-61.0%) while studies from North America reported the lowest median prevalence of 30.4% (IQR 14.7%-50.2%). Prevalence decreased over time: median 45.6% before 2001, 38.1% during 2001 to 2010, and 34% during 2011 to 2017. Studies involving children under 12 years had a higher median prevalence (46.9%) than adolescent studies (33.7%). Inpatient setting studies had a higher median prevalence (50.3%) than studies in outpatient settings (38.8%). Community level samples, higher number and duration of medications defining polypharmacy, and psychotropic medications were associated with lower prevalence. Conclusions: The prevalence of pediatric polypharmacy is high and variable. Studies reporting pediatric polypharmacy should account for context, design, polypharmacy definition, and medications evaluated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)275-287
Number of pages13
JournalPharmacoepidemiology and drug safety
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Epidemiology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


  • adolescent
  • child
  • pediatric
  • pharmacoepidemiology
  • polypharmacy
  • polytherapy
  • prevalence


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