When Medications Cause Side Effects

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Most of us would agree that the benefits of modern medications are many. However, with every upside comes a downside. For medications, the downside can be the side effects.

Side effects are unwanted reactions or events that come about when you take a medication. They range from mild to serious. On the minor end are a runny nose, headache and drowsiness. Serious side effects can be life-threatening and might include internal bleeding, severe allergic reaction and increased risk of heart attack.

Both prescription and over-the-counter medications can produce side effects. They’re commonly called “adverse reactions” on prescription drug information sheets, or can be listed under the heading of “warnings” on over-the-counter drug labels. Potential side effects vary for each medication.

Your age, gender and weight can affect how strongly a drug’s side effect impacts you. Other factors that come into play include how your body absorbs the drug; if you have allergies; and other medications, vitamins and dietary supplements you take. 

Your age, gender and weight can affect how strongly a drug’s side effect impacts you.

Tips for Reducing Medication Side Effects

1. Talk to your doctor, health care provider or pharmacist when you begin a new medication.

Always have a list of your medications with you when you see your doctor or health care provider. (It should include the name of each drug, why you take it, the dose, and how often it’s taken.) When you start a new medication, know why you’re taking it and side effects to watch out for. Talk about other medications you already take and learn about any potential interactions between the drugs.

2. Know how your medication might interact with certain foods, caffeine and alcohol.

With some cholesterol-lowering drugs, grapefruit and grapefruit juice should be avoided because it can cause too much or too little of the drug to stay in your body. Certain blood thinners are less effective with foods high in vitamin K. Drinking alcohol with some medications can result in loss of coordination, memory problems, sleepiness or falls.

It’s important to know if your new medication limits the types of foods or drinks you consume. Ask your doctor or health care provider about food interactions, and be sure to read the medication guide or patient information sheet that comes with your prescription drug, or the Drug Facts label on your over-the-counter medication.

3. Learn how to manage the side effects you experience.

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Call your doctor or health care provider immediately if you are experiencing what you think is a serious side effect from a medication you’re taking.

When it comes to side effects that are less serious, they may not be emergencies, but it’s still important to take steps to help make them manageable. Your doctor or health care provider might work with you on:

  • Adjusting the dose you take 
  • Considering a different medication
  • Switching to a combination medication that combines two drugs into one (if available) 
  • Making lifestyle or diet changes

Sometimes simple tweaks can make a difference. For stomach upset and insomnia, it might help to change the time of day you take the medicine. Sucking on hard candy or ice chips might relieve dry mouth. Get input from your doctor, health care provider or pharmacist when making such changes.

Don’t skip doses of medications and don’t stop taking medications without first talking to your doctor or health care provider. 

4. Educate yourself about any dietary supplements you take.

Include dietary supplements on that medication checklist you wrote out for yourself. This includes any vitamins, minerals, herbal products or protein supplements you take. While they may help in one area of your health — for example, boosting your immune system —  they could also produce unwanted side effects, such as diarrhea or constipation. They might also interact negatively with a prescription medication you take. When you’re having your medication discussion with your doctor, health care provider or pharmacist, don’t forget to include these supplements in the conversation.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.

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