How Worried Should I Be About Side
Effects? ... I'm Terrified
Julie Kenkel, Drug Information Clerkship 2000
and Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate, 2001
people want to know detailed information about the prescription
medicines they are taking. This can lead to some interesting
this additional information help or hinder your medication
the rambling list of side effects tacked on the end of
a television ad scare you away from the medication?
- And in the end, how do side effects
influence your health?
Consider the directions
and "possible" side effects for a medicine used to treat
osteoporosis (thinning or weakening of the bones). This
medicine can build stronger bones and prevent broken bones,
but it also has a unique set of instructions. They are:
"Take one tablet
every morning with a full glass (8 ounces) of plain water.
Do not sit or lie down (remain standing or sitting upright)
for at least 30 minutes and until after your first meal
of the day."
sound different from other medicines you have taken. So,
how important is it to follow them? Before you make up your
mind, you decide to read through the information you were
You read the "possible"
side effects - an upset stomach or an irritated throat.
They may be annoying, but they do not have to stop you from
taking the medicine.
You read further
and begin to get a little nervous. The medicine may cause
bone pain and ulcers in your esophagus (the tube connecting
the throat to the stomach). You start to wonder if you want
to risk taking this medication. It has such unusual instructions
and several scary side effects. Before you make up your
mind, you need to know the reasons behind some of this information
and that following the instructions can help you avoid some
of the side effects.
Remember the instructions
to take with water and remain standing for 30 minutes? By
following them, you can help decrease the chance of the
medicine getting stuck on the side of your esophagus or
- By taking with a full glass of water,
the medicine can move easier down the esophagus and through
standing or sitting upright, gravity will help the medicine
pass through your stomach faster.
waiting at least 30 minutes before eating, the medicine
will not be affected by food.
medication will spend less time in your throat, esophagus,
and stomach. You will decrease the chance of having sores
and bleeding simply by following the directions.
Not all side effects
are harmful. Some are actually beneficial. They tell you
that your medicine is working. In this case, mild bone pain
is a sign that your body is building stronger bones.
As a patient and
consumer, you can play an active role in your health care
by knowing about your medicines. It is very important to
read the information that is given to you by your health
care providers. Keep in mind, you can always talk to your
physician, pharmacist, or health care provider if you have
any questions or concerns.
So, how concerned should
you be about the side effects of your medications? When it comes
to side effects, remember to ask questions and get answers.
Understanding which side effects may be harmful, which ones
are merely undesirable, and which ones are actually beneficial
is important. There is a reason for the side effects mentioned
in television ads. They let you know what may happen - you should
not immediately dismiss them. But, once you understand the reasons
behind instructions and the "possible" side effects, there is
no need to be terrified of prescription medicines. They are
still a vital step on the road to better health.
© 2001 Consumer Health
Information Corporation. All rights reserved.