There’s one thing you should know before you start reading this: All Drugs Have Side Effects. They always have. They always will.
In 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a whopping 45 new drugs, and has already approved 13 as of June this year. This is a good sign for innovation in the pharmaceutical industry and health care, but skeptics continue to believe the FDA approves “too many drugs with side effects.”
Today, YFPHP is here to share with you an unpleasant, but universal truth:
ALL drugs can cause side effects.
If FDA did not approve drugs with side effects, there would be no drugs to use. FDA is not the enemy. It’s not the pharma company’s fault. It’s not the scientists’ fault. It’s no one’s fault. It merely is what it is – a fact of science.
Knowing that all drugs can cause side effects, you can and should always talk to your health care provider about potential side effects of medications you are prescribed, but it’s also important that you are able to research side effects on your own.
Why? For starters, your health care provider will never have the time to list ALL the potential side effects of a drug for you. Secondly, there are (sadly) times where your provider may say “Oh, there are no side effects,” which is never true. Some drugs may have less side effects than others, but none are side effect-free. Lastly, many times a provider will not mention side effects at all, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any. While it is partially your provider’s responsibility to educate you about drug-related issues like side effects, it’s also important to own that responsibility yourself.
Here are 5 ways to research side effects on your own (Hint: Don’t be discouraged by options 1 and 2. Options 3-5 are much easier!):
- Package inserts or prescribing information (PI) – PIs are required for all branded drugs. Although they are written by the pharmaceutical company that owns the drug, the information is not biased because PIs are extensively reviewed and approved by the FDA.
These documents are written in scientific/medical language, so without a medical or health care background, PIs may be the most difficult to understand of all 5 options. There are at least 3 easy ways to find a PI online:
- Google – Just Google the name of the medication you’re looking for, followed by “package insert”. Try it out: Google “Lipitor package insert.” The PI will usually show up in a PDF format.
- Company website – Again, Google the name of the medication you’re looking for, but this time, click on the company website. It should be one of the first options to show up (for example, lipitor.com in the screenshot above). On the home page, click the Prescribing Information link. It will usually be at the very top or very bottom of the site.
- DailyMed – Go to the DailyMed website (https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov) and in the search box, type the name of the drug. Click on the drug you want, and the PI will pop up.
Once you find the PI, important sections that will tell you about side effects are Section 6: Adverse Reactions and Section 5: Warnings and Precautions.
2. Medication guide – Like PIs, medication guides are also pharma company-written, FDA-reviewed, and FDA–approved, but they are much more easy to read and consumer-friendly. Here’s the catch: Not all medications have a patient medication guide and since they give a summary of only the most important information, they are less comprehensive than the PI.
- FDA’s website provides a list of all drugs with a patient medication guide and direct links to the guides: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm085729.htm
- Otherwise, all of the resources that can be used to find PIs can be used to find patient medication guides:
- Google – Try it out. Search: “Ambien® medication guide”
- Company Website – The link to the medication guide is usually at the top or bottom of the web page, near the PI. See if you can find the company website and medication guide for Abilify®.
- DailyMed – In the search box, type in the name of the drug, click on the product you want, and click on “Medication Guide.”
Third party websites usually have information about branded and generic drugs. The information is also much easier to understand, but not all websites on the Internet are accurate. The next 3 resources are credible websites you can use to find information on side effects.
Moral of the story: Since all drugs have side effects, you should know how to find out what they are for yourself. Go straight to the source (PIs and Medication Guides) for the most accurate information. For simplified information that may not be as comprehensive, consult credible websites such as Drugs.com, MedlinePlus, and WebMD. Discuss this information with your health care provider.
Online user forums, chat rooms, Facebook groups, etc. may be helpful for finding out others’ opinions on and experiences with different medications, but remember that they are just that – opinions. Be sure to balance those opinions with facts.
Remember YFPHP does not provide medical or pharmaceutical advice. Always consult your health care provider.