What Are Drug Side Effects?

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When you are prescribed medication to treat arthritis, usually you ask the doctor to explain why you will be taking the drug. You inquire about the expected benefit from taking the medication. But, there may also be unwanted reactions to medications, commonly referred to as drug side effects.

Drug side effects are unintended, adverse effects that can develop with medication use. Drug side effects can range from mild to serious in severity. It's important for you to know the difference and be able to recognize if and when medical attention is required.

Reasons for Drug Side Effects

There are various reasons for drug side effects:

  • An adverse or allergic reaction to a specific medication
  • Interaction with other medications you are taking
  • Taking an incorrect dosage (too much or too little)

Variability of Drug Side Effects

Interestingly, while you may have experienced side effects to a particular drug, another person taking the same drug may not have any side effects. Why the difference? There are several contributing factors — age, general health, gender, the severity of disease, and drug allergies, just to name a few.

It's imperative for your doctor to be aware of all medications and supplements that you take, as well as your known drug allergies. For example, people who have known sulfa allergies should not be prescribed Celebrex (celecoxib), since it is a sulfa-based drug. There are numerous examples like that, but if your doctor and pharmacist have a list of your drug allergies on file, they should be alerted to any potential problems.

What You Should Do

First and foremost, review every new prescription with the prescribing doctor. Have your doctor explain what they prescribed, why they chose the dosage, how long before you should see a benefit, what are possible side effects, and which side effects require immediate medical attention.

Review the prescription again with the pharmacist when you get it filled. You will receive a package insert or printout of medication information with each prescription that you fill at the pharmacy — read it. Don't disregard it, read it.

What You Need to Remember

Information and awareness will go a long way to keep you safe while using prescription medications. Fear of the medications will not be helpful. Plan a course of action ahead of time with your doctor.

If the side effect you experience seems serious, seek medical attention. If the reaction is mild or moderate, contact your doctor and ask for advice. Some side effects subside over time. In other cases, a simple dose adjustment is enough to take care of the problem. It's generally the best course of action for all medications anyway — to take the lowest effective dose to reduce the risk of unwanted side effects. Your doctor will guide you. While it is necessary to deal with serious matters immediately, keep a level head about the rest. It often takes trial and error to find the optimal medication at the best dose that will achieve the desired response without side effects — or at least with minimal, manageable side effects.

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