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Updated on October 21, 2011

The Top Prescriptions

According to data recently released from IMS Healthcare Information, the top 10 prescription drugs currently dispensed in the U.S. are as follows:

  1. Hydrocodone/Tylenol (brand name Vicodin)
  2. Simvastatin (brand name Zocor)
  3. Lisinopril (brand name Zestril or Prinivil)
  4. Levothyroxine (brand name Synthroid)
  5. Amlodipine (brand name Norvasc)
  6. Omeprazole (brand name Prilosec)
  7. Azithromycin (brand name Zithromax)
  8. Amoxicillin
  9. Metformin (brand name Glucophage)
  10. Hydrochlorothiazide

Using this information, it is possible to determine what the most common conditions requiring prescription medication are1. Some of these medications may be used to treat more than one condition. In such cases we will focus on the most common medical condition for which the drug is generally used.

Based on this data, some of the most common health conditions requiring prescription medication are:

  • #1: Pain (Vicodin)
  • #2: High Cholesterol (simvastatin)
  • #3: High Blood Pressure (lisinopril, amlodipine, hydrochlorothiazide)
  • #4: Hypothyroidism (levothyroxine)
  • #5: GERD (omeprazole)
  • #6: Infection (azithromycin, amoxicillin)
  • #7: Diabetes, Type II (metformin)

I will now give you a brief overview of each of these conditions and their treatment with these specific medications.

1Note, this list does not imply that these are the top 10 "conditions" overall being treated by prescription medication. For example, this list contains no antidepressants due to the fact that there are many more antidepressant choices on the market, and no single medication for depression is used enough to propel it into the top 10 drugs.


1. PAIN (hydrocodone/acetaminophen - Vicodin):

Based on the volume of prescriptions dispensed for hydrocodone with acetaminophen (AKA Vicodin, generic) it would appear that "pain" is the most common condition for which a prescription medication is required. According to statistics from the American Academy of Pain Management, chronic pain affects more people than Diabetes, Heart Disease and Cancer combined!

Pharmacist Advice: Be sure to have several available pain relievers in your medicine chest, and be sure they are still effective (not expired). Chances are, you or I will need them at some point. If a prescription pain reliever is necessary, be sure to talk to your doctor about what you have tried in the past and what has worked for you. Asking for something available generically will save some serious money. For information on some prescription drugs for pain, see my article entitled: Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin information.

2. HIGH CHOLESTEROL (simvastatin - Zocor):

Given the fact that simvistatin is the #2 most prescribed drug, we can conclude that High Cholesterol (AKA hyperlipidemia) is a significant problem in the U.S. The statistics back this up. About 1 in 6 Americans have cholesterol levels considered to be "high risk."

While there are many approaches to treating elevated cholesterol, the most popular family of drugs turned to today are "statins" (like simvastatin). To read more about statins, see my article entitled What Are Statins?

3. HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE (hydrochlorothiazide, lisinopril, amlodipine):

Three of the top ten prescription drugs dispensed in the U.S. are indicated for the treatment of high blood pressure. Treating high blood pressure often involves using multiple medications from different "families" of drugs. The three drugs on our top 10 list belong to the following families:

  • Diuretics (hydrochlorothiazide)
  • Ace Inhibitors (lisinopril)
  • Calcium Channel Blockers (amlodipine)

For more information on High Blood Pressure read THIS ARTICLE

4. Hypothyroidism (levothyroxine - Levoxyl, Sythroid):

I would guess that most of us did not expect hypothyroidism to be the #4 condition when based upon the list of top 10 drugs. About 1 in 20 Americans has hypothyroidism. Treatment involves a daily dose of thyroid hormone in the form of a tablet. Levothyroxine (thyroid hormone) tablets are made by a variety of manufacturers and may be dispensed under such names as Synthroid, Levothroid, Levoxyl or Unithroid.

Proper levels of thyroid hormone are critical for proper metabolism, central nervous system function, weight, skin health and many other things. For best results, thyroid hormone replacement should generally be taken first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.

5. GERD (omeprazole - Prilosec):

GERD stands for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. Symptoms may include heartburn, but patients may also have GERD without pain. Other symptoms include nausea, hoarseness, chronic cough, asthma and bad breath.

GERD can be treated with medication to reduce the amount of acid created in your stomach. Medications that do this are called Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs). Omeprazole is a PPI.

Omeprazole is now available without prescription also by the name Prilosec OTC. For more information on treating GERD with a PPI see this article: GERD TREATMENT WITH PPI.

6. INFECTION (azithromycin, amoxicilin):

Azithromycin and amoxicillin are antibiotics used to treat infection. They both come in a variety of dosage forms (tablets, capsules, suspensions, injection). They are widely used to treat many of the most common infectious conditions for which we often arrive at our doctor's office. Examples of infections that we commonly treat with azithromycin and amoxicillin include: upper respiratory infections, sinus infections, ear infections, oral infections, throat infections and skin infections.

When taking antibiotics be sure to complete the full course of therapy. Take them at the same time daily. Some antibiotics, like azithromycin, are often taken for just 5 days - however the effectiveness of the antibiotic continues to persist for several days after stopping.

7. DIABETES (metformin - Glucophage):

Finally, coming in at #7, we have Diabetes. It is estimated that diabetes effects over 8% of the U.S. population, with a significant number of patients yet undiagnosed. Metformin is a unique prescription drug used to treat Type 2 Diabetes and appears to work through a variety of mechanisms to reduce overall blood sugar levels. Metformin is a generic medication. It is typically taken 2-3 times daily. Some forms of metformin are long-acting and only taken once daily.

For more information on Diabetes see:


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    • profile image

      treat gout naturally 6 years ago

      This really is a marvelous article. Thanks a ton for

      all of this. It is a great guide!

      Check this out on treatment for gout.

      treat gout naturally

    • profile image

      Karen 6 years ago

      Thank you for clearing that up. I'll make sure her thyroid level is checked again. God Bless!

    • pharmacist profile image

      Jason Poquette 6 years ago from Whitinsville, MA


      Levothyroxine is the generic equivalent of Synthroid. Often insurance requirements, or even State law regulations, require the generic to be dispensed. They are the same. However, it is not good practice to routinely be switching between them. Also, it is not a bad idea to schedule a thyroid level check several weeks after switching...just to be sure everything is still okay.

      Often brand name drugs eventually become unavailable when demand is too low. However, I believe both Synthroid and Lasix are still on the market...though as I mentioned...more expensive typically than their generics.

    • profile image

      Karen 6 years ago

      Hi! Is there a difference between Synthyroid and levothyroxine? My mom has been on Synthyroid for many years and her pharmacy switched her to Levothyroxine. She is very upset to say the least. The pharmacist told me Synthyroid is no longer available. They also switched her Lasix to a generic saying Lasix is unavailable. Is this true? Thank you!!

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      I've been diagnosed with hypothyroidism since age 12, taking replacement therapy. I had no idea it was the fourth leading condition for which medicine is prescribed.