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Identifying Side Effects of Medication: When Are They Dangerous?

Posted by David Ghiorso, CPA, August 12, 2019

After reviewing your symptoms and medical history, your doctors will prescribe medications that they feel are best for managing your condition. In most cases these prescriptions will be the right choice for your situation, but occasionally side effects do occur. What should you look for, with regard to side effects, and how can you know when a side effect might be dangerous?

First, keep in mind that the vast majority of side effects are minor, so there’s no need to panic. The next step is to educate yourself on side effects, so that you will recognize them when they do happen.

While a side effect can occur at any time, they are most likely to occur when:

  • You start taking a new medication that you haven’t taken before
  • You increase or decrease the dose of a medication you’ve been taking
  • You stop taking a drug (technically, symptoms are from withdrawal, not a side effect)

How to reduce your risk of side effects. If you are starting, stopping, or changing the dose of a medication, talk to your doctor about possible side effects. He or she can warn you about the most common ones, so that you know what to look for.

Read the inserts that your pharmacist will give you with each prescription. These will go into more detail.

Make sure you and your doctor have discussed all prescriptions you’re currently taking, along with any over-the-counter medications or supplements. Your doctor needs this information to prevent drug interactions, which can be dangerous.

What to do if a side effect occurs. If the side effect feels life threatening, call 911 or have someone drive you to the emergency room. This is extremely rare, of course. In most cases you simply need to notify your doctor. Together you can discuss whether a different dose might be appropriate for you, or another medication might work better.

You can also report side effects to the FDA, which tracks information related to drugs and possible complications. Call 1-800-332-1088 or visit their Medwatch website. This information will help them to monitor a drug’s rate of side effects and possibly help to warn other consumers of potential problems.

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