Any prescription drug commercial reminds you that medications can have side effects, ranging from mild to severe. Before starting a new medicine, beware of its effects and work closely with your physician to manage potential problems.
“When prescribing medications, providers have to consider numerous factors, such as sex, age, weight, pre-existing conditions, race, family history, other medications, over-the-counter medications and supplements, allergies, geography, cost and patient compliance,” says Hieu Nguyen, a family medicine physician with INTEGRIS in Oklahoma City. “All of these factors can influence the risk of adverse effects for the individual.”
He says it’s not possible to completely avoid side effects, but the best way to reduce the risk is to follow the dosage and instructions.
“Each medication comes with a list of possible side effects and the frequency at which they occur … in clinical trials,” Nguyen says. “Unfortunately, these lists tend to be very long and, due to liability purposes, often include anything that is reported by the subjects during the studies. It is important to ask your provider and/or pharmacist about common side effects and possible interactions with other medications. It is also important to notify your provider about any over-the-counter supplements as many of them can affect the metabolism of prescribed medications.”
He adds that if you change the way you take your medicine, you should quickly notify your doctor.
Jeremy Ransdell, a family medicine physician with St. John Clinic in Jenks and Bixby, says side effects sometimes only appear with certain dosages and may be avoided by adjusting the level.
“In other cases, the side effects may outweigh the benefit of the medicine and could directly affect the decision to take the medicine in general,” he says. “Also, some side effects will dissipate over time, making the tracking and discussion of these symptoms at follow-up clinic visits all the more important.”
Ransdell says another strategy for avoiding side effects is to drink plenty of water.
“Water is what our bodies use to help filter medicines via the liver and kidneys,” he says. “Staying well hydrated is crucial for avoiding medication buildup in our body.”
Ransdell adds that limiting toxins and processed food in our diets helps to prevent inflammation in our bodies and, in theory, reduce the chances of side effects.
When considering whether a medication is worth its risks, Ransdell says most discussions revolve around its potential to prolong life or how long its side effects may last. For instance, medicines that lower the chances of stroke and cardiovascular and kidney diseases may be worth their challenging side effects.
Nguyen says doctors have different thresholds for risk and benefit, which can lead to varying treatments among physicians. Patients can also glean information about medicines’ side effects from the internet, but they must be discerning when online.
“The job of the provider is to assist the patient in interpreting the information and present a tailored plan of care so that the patient can make an informed decision,” Nguyen says.