Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Are Your Meds Making You Sick (Part 4 - Final)

Prescription Drug Side Effects – Part 4

Medications can cause other conditions unrelated to the health problems they're prescribed to treat

by: Patricia Barry | from: AARP Bulletin | September 1, 2011

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.


Patricia Barry is a senior editor with the AARP Bulletin.

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