Side Effects Don't Have to Mean Risky
Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate, 2002
sprained her ankle. She went to the doctor and received a prescription
for ibuprofen to help with the swelling. Afterwards, she went
to the pharmacy to get the prescription filled. Once she got
home, she forgot how the pharmacist told her to take the medicine
or if there were any side effects, and she hadn't asked any
questions. So, Annette took her ibuprofen on an empty stomach
with a glass of water. About an hour later, she began to have
an upset stomach and didn't know why. What she did not know
is that an upset stomach is a common side effect of an NSAID
(non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) such as ibuprofen, and
it could have been avoided by taking the medicine with food
In a study conducted by
the University of Kansas School of Medicine and Harvard Medical
School, doctors were convinced that 90% of patients understood
potential drug side effects, when in fact, only 57% of patients
said they knew what side effects to expect1.1
It is not because patients
do not want to know more about their side effects. A survey
published in the Archives of Internal Medicine this past March
reported that three out of every four people said they want
to know more information concerning side effects of their prescription
In other words, doctors
are providing their patients with information on side effects,
but many patients leave the office not fully understanding how
to take their medicine or what to do if they have a side effect.
This is the reason that you, as a patient, should take an active
role in your health care by asking questions.
Take Annette for example.
She did not ask questions about her medicine which resulted
in an upset stomach and may have interfered with her schedule,
diet, or daily life. Asking questions allows you to understand
important information about your medicine such as recognizing
side effects and understanding how to prevent or manage those
side effects. By knowing this information, you will get the
most benefit out of your medicine.
For instance, taking your
high blood pressure medicine correctly will help lower your
blood pressure. However, if you do not take enough of your high
blood pressure medicine because you are bothered by side effects,
you are not lowering it as much as you could and could be increasing
your chances of having a heart attack or stroke. Being informed
will allow you to take all of your medicine safely, with the
Ask Now and Don't Pay
The best advice is to be
prepared before you leave your doctor's office or pharmacy by
asking a few simple questions such as:
What types of side effects
can I expect from this medicine?
Is there anything I
can do to prevent or manage the side effects?
What should I do if
When should I call my
Doctors, pharmacists, and
nurses expect you to ask questions about your treatment so they
know you understand how to take the medicine as correctly and
safely as possible.
If you think you may be
having a side effect after starting a new medicine, ask yourself
if the side effect is one your doctor or pharmacist discussed
with you. Then, try one of the ways they taught you to control
it. It is also a good idea to keep the information you received
at the pharmacy and read it when you have a question.
If you still cannot manage
the side effect or if it is a side effect that requires medical
attention, call your doctor or pharmacist for suggestions. In
some cases, a medicine may have to be changed if the side effects
do not respond to simple measures. Usually, side effects can
be managed if the appropriate steps are taken. Make sure to
find out from your doctor or pharmacist what side effects you
can manage at home and which side effects need your doctor's
Keep a Side Effect
Try keeping a side effect
journal when you begin a new medicine and show it to your
doctor and pharmacist. A journal provides valuable information
to your doctor and pharmacist so they can decide if other
steps need to be taken to treat the side effects, if the dose
of your medicine needs to be adjusted, or if you need to be
on a different medicine.
The following are types
of items a journal entry should include:
Date and time
of the side effect, such as July 12 at 8am. Make sure to write
down every time a side effect occurs since some side effects
will go away with time. It will also be helpful to state what
time you took each of your medicines.
Side effect you experienced,
such as dizziness, headache, or upset stomach and how severe
the symptom was. Was it just annoying but you could still
perform your daily activities, or was it so bad that you had
to miss part of work that day?
All other possible
causes of that symptom, such as missing a meal, hot weather,
stress, foods high in fat, a medicine you bought without a
prescription, or an herbal remedy.
Steps you took to
manage the side effect, such as eating a light snack,
sitting down to rest, drinking plenty of fluids, or taking
some type of medicine.
If the steps worked
or if you had to call your doctor or pharmacist for other
Every medicine has side
effects, but not everyone will experience a side effect. Therefore,
it is impossible for doctors, pharmacists, and nurses to tell
you how you will be affected, but they can tell you possible
side effects of each medicine and give you simple steps to prevent
them. So, if you take an active role in your health care team
by asking questions, medicines no longer have to mean risky
1. Jaret, Peter. Ten Ways
to Improve Patient Compliance. Hippocrates 2001 Feb/March; 15(2).
2. Ziegler, DK, MD, et al.
How much Information About Adverse Effects of Medication Do
Patients Want From Physicians? Archives of Internal Medicine
2001 March 12; 161:706-713.
© 2001 Consumer Health
Information Corporation. All rights reserved.