It’s a familiar story. You’re not feeling well, so you visit your doctor who prescribes a medication. But instead of feeling better, you find that the medication makes you feel worse. You’re not alone. According to a report from the Institute of Medicine, as many as one-third of Americans taking prescription drugs say they have experienced adverse drug reactions.
How medicine can make you sick
The problem is that while medications are meant to help us, they can also make us sick. Adverse reactions to prescription and over-the-counter drugs are a leading cause of hospitalizations and responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. In fact, adverse drug reactions are now the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease, cancer, and strokes.
There are many reasons why medications can make us sick. Sometimes it’s due to an interaction between the drug and other medications we are taking. Other times it’s because of a reaction between the drug and a food we’ve eaten. And sometimes the problem is with the medication itself.
The side effects of medicines
Most medicines have some kind of side effect, and some of these side effects can be pretty serious. So it’s important to understand what the potential side effects are before you take a medicine.
Generally, the risk of having serious side effects from a medicine is low. But the risk is greater for some people than others. For example, older people are more likely to have problems with side effects from medicines than younger people.
Pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions also have a higher risk of having side effects from medicines. So it’s important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any potential risks before you start taking a new medicine.
Some of the most common side effects from medicines include:
- Upset stomach
If you experience any of these side effects, it’s important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist. They may be able to adjust the dose of your medicine or suggest a different medicine that will be more effective for you with fewer side effects.
While most drugs have some potential for side effects, it's important to remember that not everyone will experience them.
How to know if your medicine is making you sick
There are a few key ways to tell if your medicine is making you sick. If you experience any of the following symptoms, it is important to speak with your doctor to determine whether or not your medicine is the root cause.
1. You experience new or worsening symptoms.
2. You have a sudden change in how well your medicine works.
3. You develop an allergic reaction to your medicine, such as hives, swelling, or difficulty breathing.
4. You have a sudden change in your weight.
5. You experience excessive fatigue or tiredness.
6. You develop unusual bruising or bleeding.
7. You have a change in your vision.
8. You have a change in your bowel or bladder habits.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to speak with your doctor to determine whether or not your medicine is the root cause.
What to do if you think your medicine is making you sick
If you think your medicine is making you sick, it is important to talk to your doctor. Your doctor may be able to change your dose or prescribe a different medicine.
If you have any of the following symptoms, call your doctor right away:
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat
- Skin rash
- Yellowing of your skin or eyes
- Dark urine
- Body aches
- Flu-like symptoms
Your doctor will want to know if you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine. He or she will also want to know about any other medicines you are taking. Be sure to tell your doctor about any over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, or herbal supplements you are taking.
How to avoid sickening side effects from medicine
It is estimated that over half of Americans take at least one prescription medication, and that one in four Americans take three or more prescription medications.1 With such high rates of medication use, it's not surprising that many people experience adverse effects from their medications. In fact, it is estimated that adverse drug reactions (ADRs) are responsible for approximately 100,000 deaths in the United States each year.2
While ADRs can range from mild to severe,3 many are quite severe and can even be life-threatening.4 As such, it is important for people to be aware of the potential for ADRs and how to avoid them.
There are a number of steps that people can take to avoid ADRs, including:
1. Asking their healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of their medication
2. Checking for possible drug interactions
3. Taking their medications as directed
4. Reporting any unusual side effects to their healthcare provider
By following these steps, people can help to avoid potentially dangerous ADRs.