Prescription medications offer treatment for a wide range of symptoms that interfere with a patient’s daily life. Many people turn to prescription medications when they start to notice problems with their everyday health, but virtually no medication is without potential side effects—including over the counter medications and supplements.
Mild Side Effects of Common Medications
In many cases, the side effects of prescription medications remain relatively mild. In many cases, patients choose to continue taking those medications and live with the side effects, since the side effects cause fewer problems with their everyday lives than the symptoms the medications treat. These might include:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Dry mouth
- Changes in skin, including rashes
These relatively mild side effects usually receive prompt attention and management from the patient’s physician. In many cases, prompt treatment can alleviate side effects: sometimes by changing the medication, other times by adding another step that can help improve overall functionality. Mild side effects may also occur or increase when prescription drugs are combined with other medications or supplements. Doctors and pharmacists work to carefully evaluate potential medication interactions before adding to a patient’s prescription to help alleviate those side effects.
More Serious Side Effects
Most of the time, patients assume that doctors will offer them safe treatment options that will alleviate their symptoms, rather than making them worse or leaving even more significant side effects behind them. Unfortunately, not every medication provides safe treatment for the patients who need it. In some cases, serious side effects may occur with medication use. These side effects, in many cases, become catastrophic for the patients that experience them:
- Suicidal thoughts. Some prescription medications come along with an incredibly dangerous side effect: suicidal thoughts. Accutane, intended to treat acne, for example, can cause suicidal thoughts in a small percentage of the population. Discontinuing these medications as soon as possible can help restore normal thought patterns; however, patients require careful observation as the drug works its way out of their systems.
- Allergic reactions. An allergic reaction to a medication can cause a minor rash, or it may cause anaphylactic shock in the patient. In some cases, anaphylaxis may lead to death.
- Abnormal heart rhythms. Not only can abnormal heart rhythms lead to substantial discomfort in many patients, abnormal heart rhythms can cause increased anxiety or emotional responses, restrict patient activity, and even lead to death.
- Blood clotting reactions. Approximately 2-3 percent of the patients who use Heparin, a blood thinner, experience the opposite reaction instead: instead of thinning the blood, it causes blood clots. This life-threatening reaction can leave patients hospitalized long-term or suffering amputations due to restricted blood flow in the extremities.
- Internal bleeding. Internal bleeding may cause anemia, confusion, and, if not stopped, death. Many patients fail to notice signs of internal bleeding or write off dizziness and weakness to adjusting to a new medication. Without careful monitoring, this condition can worsen quickly.
- Infertility. In some cases, taking medications to manage one type of illness or symptom can lead to a more serious problem: infertility. Infertility often shows up as a side effect of cancer treatments; however, other medications can also lead to a struggle to conceive in the future.
- Infections. Some drugs lower the patient’s immune system, reducing the patient’s ability to fight off infection or leading to more serious illness than the drug is intended to prevent. Meningitis and brain infections can quickly prove fatal. Worse, lowering the patient’s immune system may prevent the patient from fighting off common illnesses, leading to more substantial symptoms from even minor illnesses.
Most of the time, the FDA approves only medications whose side effects cause fewer problems than the illness the drug treats. Unfortunately, in some cases, side effects may show up only in a small percentage of the test population. In other cases, severe side effects may show up rarely enough that the FDA considers the risk worth the effectiveness of the drug. Adverse drug reactions, unfortunately, cause as many as 2.7 million hospitalizations each year, even when the patient takes the medication exactly as prescribed by their doctor and avoids interactions from other substances.
Prescription Drug Abuse
In some cases, serious side effects arise, not because of a drug used as intended, but because the patient chooses to use the drug outside of the doctor’s prescription. Abuse includes both taking medications prescribed to another individual and taking more of a medication than the prescription tells you to take: taking more pain pills than prescribed, for example, or taking them more often than the doctor’s instructions. Symptoms of prescription drug abuse may include:
- Slowed breathing rate. Significantly slowed breathing can lead to coma or even death.
- Memory problems or poor concentration. Due to their mind-altering effects, many prescription medications, when abused, cause significant loss of mental skills, including both short and long-term memory and concentration and focus.
- Irregular heartbeat. The heart may race or heart rate may decrease substantially, depending on the drug taken.
- Slurred speech, excessively rapid speech, or difficulty with comprehending spoken language. As prescription drugs continue to impair mental function, they can lead to decreased processing and language abilities.
- Sleep issues. Depending on the type of medication taken, sleep issues may occur as excessive drowsiness or sleep, or they may present as insomnia or lack of appropriate sleep stages.
- Difficulty regulating emotions. Difficulty with emotion regulation may include anxiety, depression, agitation, or increased emotional response to common triggers.
Continued abuse of prescription medications can cause steadily worsening addiction and, ultimately, overdose or death. Seeking medical assistance for prescription drug abuse can help protect a teenager or adult who chooses to use those medications inappropriately. Did you suffer serious side effects due to medication use? Did you take a drug that turned out more dangerous than anticipated? In some cases, especially if your doctor or the manufacturer did not disclose known severe side effects from the medication, you may have grounds for a personal injury claim. A personal injury attorney can help you discuss your circumstances and potentially begin the process of filing a claim.