Prescription Drug Side Effects – Part 4
Medications can cause other conditions unrelated to the health problems they're prescribed to treat
However, it's not always easy to tell whether a symptom is related to a drug, a drug interaction, the underlying medical condition or a different health problem entirely. Sometimes if a drug is suspected, the only way a doctor can be certain it's the culprit is to stop prescribing it and see if the symptom vanishes — which might be medically feasible for some conditions but not others.
"Patients can be their own best advocates in alerting their doctor to a concern that this [symptom] could be a drug side effect," Steinman says. "Patients know themselves better than anyone else."
How to Avoid Drug Reactions
- If you experience a change that doesn't feel right, tell your doctor. Ask if the symptom could be a drug side effect. It may be an expected effect that will wear off soon. But it also may signal a serious medical problem.
- If you're taking several drugs, ask your doctor or pharmacist to review them. Ask if there can be interaction problems with your drugs and even vitamins and supplements. Consider seeing a certified consultant pharmacist trained in managing a number of drugs, usually for a fee. If you're in a Medicare Advantage health plan, ask if you qualify for its medications therapy management service.
- Ask if there are lifestyle changes you can make instead of taking a drug. Very often patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes can minimize side effects or avoid drugs altogether by losing weight, exercising more and stopping smoking.
- Ask to be prescribed drugs that have been on the market for at least seven years. It often takes five to 10 years for serious side effects of a new drug to show up in the general population. Some reactions surface only after the patient has been on the drug for a year or more.
- Ask why the doctor is prescribing a particular drug. Find out what the risks and benefits are, compared to alternative drugs.
- Don't stop taking a drug without consulting your doctor. Suddenly stopping some drugs can be harmful.
- Use AARP's Drug Interaction Checker to review your medications online.
- Read Consumers Reports' Best Buy Drugs for information on effectiveness and safety of drugs according to scientific evidence.
- Locate a certified geriatric pharmacist for help managing medications.
Patricia Barry is a senior editor with the AARP Bulletin.