Adverse drug effects send about 4.5 million Americans to the doctor’s office or the emergency room each year. But the fatal or serious reactions most often reported are only the tip of the iceberg. There are tens of millions of milder reactions, some of which are quite damaging to people even though they’re medically regarded as minor.
Milder symptoms such as drowsiness, sleeplessness, muscle aches, dizziness, nausea and bouts of depression may be troubling than they are dangerous. Yet, drugs that affect people’s balance or slow their reactions are a major cause of falls and accidents. Even gastric problems or muscle pain can seriously affect mobility and mood, hampering work and daily activities.
Tips 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 about interaction problems with your drugs and even vitamins and supplements. Consider seeing a certified consultant pharmacist trained in managing a number of drugs.
- Ask about lifestyle changes you can make instead of taking a drug. Patient with chronic conditions such as diabetes can minimize side effects or avoid taking drugs by losing weight, exercising or 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.