Afraid of medication side effects? You have options.
Medical treatments and medicines save lives, prevent disease, and keep people out of the hospital, but they can also cause unwanted side effects.
Hearing about potential side effects may make you nervous and cause you to not want to take your medication. You may be afraid to take your prescribed medicine because:
You’re afraid of the side effects your doctor told you could happen
You’ve taken the medicine before and felt sick from it
You took a similar medicine and had a bad reaction
Or you’re concerned from a family member’s experience with a similar drug.
Remember: “Medicines affect each person differently,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, chief medical editor at HealthiNation and pediatrician at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. The side effects your friend or mom felt on a particular medicine may not be what you’ll feel. Your age, weight, sex, medical history, and other medicines you are taking can affect your chances of experiencing a side effect.
If you decide you no longer want to take your medicine, don’t stop taking it until you talk to your doctor. Your doctor has prescribed this medication because he or she believes the benefits outweigh the side effect risks, and stopping suddenly may be dangerous.
The good news? You have options. You might not have to experience the side effects of your medicine. Here’s what you can do:
TIP #1: Ask your doctor about all potential side effects.
When you’re at the doctor’s office, ask the following questions about your medications before you head home:
What are the common side effects this medicine might cause?
How can I manage mild side effects so I can keep taking the medicine?
Are there any serious side effects this medicine might cause? If so, what are the early warning signs so I can get help?
What interactions should I know about?
When should I call the doctor?
“When you’re visiting your doctor and you’re being prescribed a medication, or reviewing the medications that you’re on, it’s important to write everything down,” says Dr. Parikh.
TIP #2: Talk to your pharmacist.
Talk to your pharmacist about any concerns you may have and ask for a patient handout.
“Ask your pharmacist if there’s anything you can do to limit the side effects, such as eating before taking the medication [to] prevent an upset stomach,” says Punkaj Khanna, PharmD, a pharmacist based in New York City. Make sure to also ask about interactions, such as whether not you can drink alcohol while taking your medicine.
Read about the side effects information while you’re at the pharmacy (in case it sparks any more questions) and reread it when you get the medicine refilled in case there are any changes.
TIP #3: Keep a side effects diary.
“One of the best things you can do when talking to your doctor about your medicine is to come prepared with a diary or journal,” says Dr. Parikh. “You should be keeping track of what you’re experiencing or feeling when taking the medication.”
After reviewing your journal with your doctor, write down the date and the steps your doctor told you to take. Did it help? Did it not help? Did you experience any additional side effects? This information will be helpful during your next doctor visit.
TIP #4: Talk to your doctor about how the medicine is affecting your life.
If your medicine is significantly affecting the quality of your life, tell your doctor. You may have options to switch up your medications or routine. Your doctor may suggest:
Taking a different medication altogether
Trying a different dose
Modifying the timing of your medications
Using other medications to counter side effects
Or adopting healthy lifestyle changes.
“Side effects are a big deal, and talking to your doctor about them is important,” says Dr. Parikh. “Remember: You, your doctor, and your pharmacist are a team, and [together] we need to find the best medication for you.”
Preeti Parikh, MD serves as the Chief Medical Officer of HealthiNation. She is a board-certified pediatrician practicing at Westside Pediatrics, is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and is an American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and has completed post-graduate training at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.Punkaj Khanna
Punkaj Khanna earned his Pharm.D. from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. He works at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and has special interests in patient education and compliance.
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One of the scary parts of
starting a new medication or
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taking medications is that you
may experience side effects
00:00:22,430 --> 00:00:26,962
00:00:26,962 --> 00:00:30,220
Medicines may affect
each person differently.
00:00:30,220 --> 00:00:33,560
So it's really important to ask
your doctor these questions.
00:00:33,560 --> 00:00:35,100
What are the common side effects?
00:00:35,100 --> 00:00:38,920
How can I manage mild side effects so
I can keep taking the medicine?
00:00:38,920 --> 00:00:42,360
Are there any serious side effects
this medicine might cause?
00:00:42,360 --> 00:00:44,960
What interactions should I know about?
00:00:44,960 --> 00:00:46,371
When should I call the doctor?
00:00:46,371 --> 00:00:51,108
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Talk to your pharmacist
about any questions or
00:00:53,321 --> 00:00:56,620
concerns that you may have and
ask for a patient handout.
00:00:56,620 --> 00:00:59,630
Read the side effect
information at the pharmacy.
00:00:59,630 --> 00:01:03,460
Ask your pharmacist if there's anything
that you can do to limit the side effects,
00:01:03,460 --> 00:01:06,380
such as eating before
taking your medication so
00:01:06,380 --> 00:01:08,250
you can prevent an upset stomach.
00:01:08,250 --> 00:01:12,072
Ask your pharmacist about drug
interactions, for example whether or
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not you can drink alcohol
while taking this medicine.
00:01:15,061 --> 00:01:19,738
00:01:19,738 --> 00:01:23,227
When you're visiting your doctor and
you're being prescribed a medication or
00:01:23,227 --> 00:01:27,145
reviewing the medications that you're on,
it's important to write everything down.
00:01:27,145 --> 00:01:30,388
One of the best things you could
do when talking to your doctor
00:01:30,388 --> 00:01:33,910
about your medicine is to come
prepared with a diary or journal.
00:01:33,910 --> 00:01:36,682
You should be keeping track of
what you're experiencing and
00:01:36,682 --> 00:01:38,509
feeling when you take the medication.
00:01:38,509 --> 00:01:42,845
00:01:42,845 --> 00:01:46,339
If your medicine is significantly
affecting your life and
00:01:46,339 --> 00:01:50,905
you're experiencing a lot of side effects,
your doctor may suggest taking
00:01:50,905 --> 00:01:54,970
a different medication altogether,
trying a different dosage,
00:01:54,970 --> 00:01:59,964
spacing out your medications, using other
medications to counter side effects,
00:01:59,964 --> 00:02:03,130
or adopting healthy lifestyle changes.
00:02:03,130 --> 00:02:07,760
Side effects are a big deal and talking
to your doctor about them is important
00:02:07,760 --> 00:02:11,970
because, remember, you, your doctor,
and your pharmacist are a team.
00:02:11,970 --> 00:02:14,726
And we need to find the best
medication for you.
00:02:14,726 --> 00:02:18,835
Medication Adherence. Chicago, IL: American Medical Association. (Accessed on November 14, 2021 at https://edhub.ama-assn.org/steps-forward/module/2702595)
Afraid of Side Effects? Atlanta, GA: Arthritis Foundation. (Accessed on November 14, 2021 at https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/medication/side-effects/understanding-medication-risks.php)
Minimize medicine risks: lower the risks of side effects. Gloucester, MA: BeMedWise. (Accessed on November 14, 2021 at http://www.bemedwise.org/medication-safety/medication-side-effects)
Get the Most From Your Medicines: Managing Side Effects. Gloucester, MA: BeMedWise. (Accessed on April 5, 2019 at http://www.bemedwise.org/documents/bmw_managing_side_effects.pdf)
Think It Through: Managing the Benefits and Risks of Medicines. Bethesda, MD: Food and Drug Administration. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Accessed on November 14, 2021 at https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-consumers-and-patients-drugs/think-it-through-managing-benefits-and-risks-medicines )