From the occasional skin rash to more chronic illnesses such as diabetes, prescription drugs are often critical in treating or even preventing symptoms and improving overall quality of life. All medications carry the potential for complications or other symptoms known as side effects. From periodic nausea or upset stomach to more adverse effects such as liver or heart problems, each medication carries its own potential for introducing ailments unrelated to the original diagnosis. In this post we'll explain what causes side effects, how to manage them, and provide 5 suggestions to remedy.
What is a medication side effect and why does it matter?
Put simply, medication side effects are unexpected reactions that can occur as a result of using a prescription, over the counter medication or herbal supplement. There are two types of side effects: common and adverse. Common side effects are generally described as “normal” after-effects of treatment such as constipation, dizziness, dry mouth, headaches and skin rash. Adverse side effects are much more serious and can include internal bleeding, kidney damage and heart dysfunction among other symptoms.
The main difference is that common side effects are unwanted, but known, while adverse side effects are unintended, and often not accounted for in treatment plans. Side effects can vary with all medications, so it’s important to understand what is common and what is adverse with the particular medication you are taking. Side effects are also not always dose dependent, meaning that they can occur at any dose or strength; some side effects, however, are worse or more pronounced the higher the dose. It's always important to take the medication as prescribed by your provider and to not increase your dose without first consulting your physician.
How to manage medication side effects
1) Communicate with your healthcare professional: Informing your healthcare provider of any allergies or known reactions to medications before starting a new medication can reduce the possibility of side effects. Be sure to also include all disease states past and present as this will help your doctor make the best choice for your medical care. New patient intake forms or patient portals usually provide an opportunity to list any known reactions to medications. Otherwise, be sure to update your doctor if anything has changed since your last visit.
2) Discuss current medications: Transparency is key for all members of your healthcare team. If you have multiple doctors or pharmacies for different treatment plans, be sure to keep them each informed of all your current medications, including over the counter medications such as pain relievers and wellness supplements such as multi-vitamins or herbal supplements. Full-service pharmacies like Alto make it easier to track all of your medication needs in one place.
3) Review the patient package insert (PPI) included with your prescriptions: All prescriptions include a PPI that contains information on the medication, indications and usage, contraindications, warnings, precautions, and dosage administration. This is a quick way to reference any possible side effects so that you know what to be on the lookout for. Take the time to read it and reach out to your prescribing physician or pharmacist with any questions.
4) Contact your pharmacist: Pharmacists are responsible for patient safety and often act as the bridge between a patient and physician when there are questions about a patient's medications. Pharmacists review all of a patient's current medications to identify any potential adverse effects, and are available to answer questions about your medications' intended use and effects. Look for pharmacies that make it easy for you to ask questions; Alto’s pharmacists are always standing by to answer your questions by phone or in-app secure messaging.
5) Be open to alternatives: Stay in contact with your doctor to discuss potential changes to your treatment plan if side effects present a problem. Your physician can evaluate other medications or treatment options if appropriate; simply forgoing treatment without consultation with your healthcare provider presents additional risks and is not advised.
Keep in mind that not all medications will produce side effects and not all side effects will be significant enough to change the course of your treatment. It’s important to pay attention to how you are feeling both before and after taking prescribed medications and to always stay in touch with a healthcare provider to discuss any unexpected symptoms or changes. For more information on how to manage your medications check out this article from Alto.
Looking for a partner to help you manage your prescriptions? Our team is available to answer your questions from 6 am - 9 pm PT Monday - Friday and 7 am - 6 pm PT on weekends; reach out by phone or in-app secure messaging.
The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.