Drug Side Effects — could it be the medication?

Dino xing

 The physician who does not carry a smart phone to look up drug side effects is a dinosaur soon to be extinct.

Drug side effects can be common, rare,  severe or mild.  But, the number of reported drug side effects is so large the human brain can not remember them all.  When a patient has a symptom or abnormal lab finding it is imperative to answer the question “could it be the medication?”  An additional step is to check for drug interactions between all the medications a patient takes — easy on a smart phone or computer.

Prescribers may recall the side effects that were listed when a drug first went on the market — but quietly pharmaceutical companies discover more side effects which are later added to the product literature in fine print.

Here are some real life examples:

  • A patient who takes several blood pressure medications is hospitalized with another episode of abdominal pain due to pancreatitis.  $10,000 worth of tests find no cause.  The patient is sent home and told it must have been due to a gall stone that passed undetected.    WRONG — it was due to the side effects of the blood pressure medications.  Medications changed, problem solved.
  • A patient takes a new oral anticoagulant and needs a heart procedure.  The blood test shows a low platelet count.  $10,000 worth of tests give no clue.  A bone marrow biopsy is proposed.  WRONG –The patient finds an internet site shows the new drug may cause a low platelet count.  No bone marrow test is needed.  Medication changed, problem solved.
  • A patient gets sunburned easily and friends comment on a suntan even in the winter.  The medical diagnosis:  fair skin.  WRONG — the blood pressure medication causes photosensitivity.  Medication  changed, problem solved.

No matter whether the drug side effect is rare or common, if it happens to you it is 100%.   Pharmaceutical companies rate the frequency of certain side effects.  Indeed, this is helpful to health care providers — they figure out a diagnosis by mentally sifting through possibilities based on likelihood.   Right lower abdominal pain is most likely appendicitis but surgeons well know there are other causes.

From a patient standpoint sometimes it is enough just to know that a drug could possibly be the cause of symptoms.  If those symptoms start right after a drug was prescribed it does not take a rocket surgeon to figure out the problem.

Drug side effects are not behind every symptom.  Such thinking could be very dangerous.  To hesitate to see a doctor about chest pain because it could just be a drug side effect would be crazy.   Also, there are unavoidable side effects — you might not like the side effects of a medication but sometimes there is no alternative (like medications to prevent organ transplant rejection).

The proactive patient should always check for possible side effects of their medications and discuss the findings that match symptoms with a health care provider.   Just searching the drug name and “side effects”  almost always gets the list you need.  Another source is patient reported side effects.  Several web sites are available — this one is sometimes helpful eHealth.me

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  1. #1 by Carolyn Thomas on June 19, 2013 - 8:48 PM

    Hurray! It works! Thanks a lot!

  2. #2 by Carolyn Thomas on June 19, 2013 - 3:38 PM

    Hello Dr. Beckett and thanks so much for this important post on side effects. Would love to subscribe to your blog via email but can’t find the ‘button’. You use WordPress so it’s easy to include on your site: just go to your Dashboard/Appearance/Widgets and select Follow Blog (Add an email signup form to allow people to follow your blog), then drag it into your right hand sidebar. Good luck!

    • #3 by qualityhealthcareplease on June 19, 2013 - 8:46 PM

      Thanks for your kind words. I did just add the “follow blog via email” app to the blog as you suggested — thank you.

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