Side Effects Can be Avoided

Category: Medications & Supplementation Published on Wednesday, 25 June 2008 Written by Yong Tsai, MD

Picking up a new prescription can be a scary thing.  The lengthy insert that lists almost every side effect can many times be deceiving and difficult to understand.

"Tylenol might damage my liver.  Advil could give me ulcers.  And I can have a heart attack if I take Vioxx. Narcotic medication can cause addiction.  And don’t forget those terrible stories about corticosteroids!”  Too often lately, this is the feeling that patients are troubled, and these fears have grown to the point that medications are considered taboo.

Medications are chemicals designed to balance out our body's shortages or surpluses to correct an abnormal condition, to kill bacteria or to decrease inflammation and pain. Unfortunately, the perfect drug is non-existent:  to have wondrous pharmacological effects to cure a disease without presenting any side effects.

A drug, which consists of several pharmacological actions, may have only one desired therapeutic effect accompanied by undesirable effects (side effects). For example, taking NSAIDs relieves inhibits the production of prostaglandins, which not only reduces inflammation, but also decreases GI protection.  Therefore, high-risk patients, such as the elderly, those with a history of ulcers or those on Coumadin, should avoid NSAIDs to prevent serious complications.

In turn, most drug doses can often be adjusted to produce the maximum desired pharmacological action while keeping undesired side effects to a minimum.  At times, some side effects may take longer to appear, but dosing can be altered most of the time if this happens.  In more unusual instances, rare severe side effects may only surface after widespread clinical use for a long period of time, and are usually related to a patient’s genetic susceptibility, and not the drug.

Justly so, every time we read medication labels we are warned of ""side effects."   However, warning labels are not meant to scare us or to deter us from taking a medication, they are meant to educate us about the possible side effects, that someone like ourselves or someone very different from us has experienced.  It does not mean it will happen, but if risk factors are present, caution should be taken.

Medication labels and inserts should be read, but read them with the right attitude. Sure, no drug is completely safe, but weighing the risks versus the benefits of taking a medication should be what you’re looking at and not refusing medication treatment because you fear experiencing every side effect listed.

Basically, many side effects are preventable and manageable.  While some side effects can be unpredictable and rare and others happen frequently but only in high-risk patients, your physician and pharmacist can work to minimize and even avoid side effects, while making sure your body the balance it needs.

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