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Does Your Medicine’s Side Effects Outweigh Its Benefit?

Virtually every medicine in use today has side effects. Some of these will be minor, others can be life-threatening. But how much are you told about potential side effects when your doctor writes you a new prescription?

Perhaps your doctor did a quick summary and told you some common side effects such as headache, nausea, dry mouth or tiredness. But did your doctor qualify just what your risk of these side effects was or their severity?

Most likely, your doctor didn’t tell you or you didn’t think to ask, but finding out just what a person’s risk of developing a particular side effect requires a bit of detective work. This usually means going back to the original research data in most cases, because actual statistics are rarely mentioned in patient information leaflets. Without knowing these numbers, how can you possibly decide whether to take the drug or not?

Take Elmiron for example. This is the only oral drug approved to treat interstitial cystitis, a painful, chronic bladder condition, that disproportionately affects women. Research conducted late last year uncovered a worrying trend for an unusual type of progressive retinal damage in taking Elmiron. Symptoms included vision loss, visual defects, reading difficulty and dark adaption.

Most of these patients had been on Elmiron for over 15 years, and many were prescribed dosages far exceeding those recommended by the manufacturer (the recommended dose is 300mg/day) because the drug was perceived to have few side effects and many patients reported little symptom benefit at lower dosages, so their dosage kept on being increased. Retinal damage was evident in 42% of those prescribed more than 1500mg/day.

But this damage is irreversible, and if you consider the fact that most people taking higher dosages reported little if any, symptom relief, the question needs to be asked “Why did it keep on getting prescribed for them?

Not all drugs have a benefit for all patients and for some people, the side effects outweigh these benefits. Each time you are prescribed a medicine, have a thorough discussion with your doctor about the pros of taking the medicine, and the likelihood of side effects. Ask for alternative treatment if the side effects are not worth the risk for you.

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