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Medication Side Effects: Should You Never Take a Pill Again?

If you have ever picked up a bottle of pills, you have probably seen a long list ofside effects listed on it. Even for some of the seemingly harmless drugs, sideeffects always seem to be present. Why is that? Is there really something to be worried about, or is it just a way for pharmaceutical companies to escape liability?

Research shows that close to 70% of drugs have anywhere between ten and one hundred side effects. Only 9% of drugs have under ten side effects. Thus, it’s clear that no matter what medicine you’re on, side effects are something you will be exposed to. 

This subject holds significance, yet it’s regrettable that there’s insufficient discourse surrounding it. Consequently, individuals tend to either overlook side effects entirely or succumb to fear, fostering a phobia towards medications.

What Are Medication Side Effects?

Before we get into the implications and considerations around medication side effects, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what they actually are. In the simplest terms, side effects are secondary, typically undesirable effects that occur due to taking a drug, separate from the medication’s intended purpose.

Real example, let’s say you take a decongestant for a stuffy nose. The primary intended effect is relieving your congestion. But you may also experience side effects like drowsiness, dry mouth, or dizziness. These are not the reason you took the medication, but they can occur as a consequence of how the drug acts on your body.

Medication side effects can range from mild annoyances to severe adverse reactions. They may affect any part of the body and can manifest in myriad ways. Some common examples include:

Body SystemPossible Side Effects
GastrointestinalNausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain
Nervous systemDizziness, headache, drowsiness, insomnia, mood changes
CardiovascularIrregular heartbeat, high or low blood pressure
SkinRash, itching, swelling
EndocrineWeight gain, blood sugar changes

Of course, this is just a small sampling. The specific side effects depend on the particular drug and how it interacts with an individual’s unique physiology. They can be influenced by factors like dosage, duration of use, age, pre-existing medical conditions, and concurrent use of other substances.

It’s important to understand that experiencing a side effect does not necessarily mean a medication is harmful or should be discontinued. In many cases, the therapeutic benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks. However, being informed about the possible risks allows patients and healthcare providers to make calculated decisions and monitor for concerning symptoms. Open dialogue is key.

Prevalence of Medication Side Effects

Just how common are medication side effects? The answer may be more startling than you expect. Adverse drug reactions are a significant cause of illness, hospitalization, and even death worldwide.

Consider these statistics:

  • Adverse drug reactions (ADRs) account for 5-8% of all hospitalizations in the US and Europe
  • In the US, an estimated 4.5 million outpatient visits per year are related to ADRs
  • ADRs are the 4th-6th leading cause of death in the US, resulting in over 100,000 fatalities annually
  • The economic burden of ADRs is substantial, with costs in the US estimated at over $200 billion per year

It’s crucial to note that these figures include both prescription and over-the-counter medications. No drug is without potential risks, even common medicines we tend to think of as harmless. For example, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are associated with gastrointestinal bleeding, and acetaminophen overdose is a leading cause of acute liver failure.

These numbers paint a sobering picture of the ubiquity and impact of medication side effects. They touch the lives of millions, placing a strain on individuals, families, and healthcare systems. Of course, medicines also save and improve countless lives. But we must grapple with the reality that our reliance on pharmaceuticals comes with inherent risks. Balancing the equation requires ongoing research, vigilance, and proactive strategies from drug manufacturers, prescribers, and patients alike.

Why Do Side Effects Exist and How Come There Are No Side-effect Free Drugs?

This is a question that many understandably ponder. If side effects pose such significant risks, why aren’t pharmaceutical companies striving harder to eradicate them? Well, they are. It’s just not that simple.

The human body is incredibly complex. 

To be precise, each person is incredibly complex. The individual variations based on ethnicity, genetics, metabolism, and hundreds of other factors make it so that variable control is a herculean task.

If you ever wonder why drug research often goes into the billions, it’s mainly the research. Data from Statista shows that the pharmaceutical industry spent over $244 billion on R&D in 2022, and this was a lower figure than earlier. 

Scientists try to find a perfect risk-to-benefit balance, but no matter what, we still have an incomplete understanding of the human body and how drugs interact with us. 

To give you some context about the efforts that pharmaceutical companies put in, there are several approaches that researchers use to minimize side effects.

You have targeted therapies that are specifically designed to for biological pathways and receptors. You also have drug treatments that keep the person’s genetic context in mind. 

Similarly, researchers make efforts to research drug delivery systems in order to reduce the risk of side effects. Then there are clinical trials and continuous monitoring and it becomes tough to imagine what more pharmaceuticals can do.

However, does that mean that these companies are blameless? Absolutely not. Let’s explore how.

How Pharmaceutical Companies are Messing Up When It Comes to Side Effects

Pharmaceutical companies make hundreds of billions by selling drugs, and if there’s an obstacle, it either gets removed or ignored. The problem with the side effects of drugs and the blame that manufacturers have is the downplaying of severe side effects.

It’s ironic in some ways. Even your average painkiller will list out a long list of side effects, but the drugs that pose actual risks don’t get their side effects listed or emphasized enough.

Look at the Tepezza lawsuit situation. People who took this drug ended up dealing with a side effect of hearing loss. Only after the outrage did Horizon Therapeutics, the manufacturer, make it clear that hearing loss was a side effect.

As reported by TorHoerman Law, there are presently over 8,334 lawsuits filed, with more individuals continuously joining this growing number. Hence, it’s evident that pharmaceutical companies must enhance their efforts.

Moreover, another problematic aspect is that drug manufacturers, even when seemingly compliant with regulations, find ways to circumvent them.Take clinical trials, for instance. Sure, they may be conducting them, but there is a tendency to publish positive findings and downplay negative ones. 

This type of publication bias ends up doing more harm to the trustworthiness of pharmaceutical companies.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do All Medicines Cause Side Effects?

Indeed, as stated by BetterHealth, every type of medication, be it prescription, over-the-counter, or even complementary, carries a potential for side effects. Even natural remedies such as Echinacea, commonly employed for treating coughs and fevers, have been associated with adverse reactions like hives, asthma, and swelling.

2. What Are The Most Common Side Effects?

Generally, symptoms like fever and nausea make up some of the most common side effects. However, a range of symptoms like dizziness, vomiting, and rashes are also very common.

3. What are Serious Adverse Events?

According to the FDA, this is a term used when a medical product causes a serious injury to well-being. This includes disability, hospitalization, birth defects, or death. Pharmaceutical companies can be held responsible if their products end up causing side effects that lead to such events. 

In conclusion, side effects are something that medicine hasn’t overcome. Until we find ways to create drugs without side effects, we simply have to accept a degree of risk. We accept this because it allows us to address a condition that might pose an even greater risk to our health.

That said, side-effects aren’t a free pass for pharmaceutical companies to be negligent. Accountability is something that our government needs to enforce more strictly so that situations like the Tepezza scandal never harm citizens again.

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