Dealing With Side Effects

Every medicine has possible side effects.  Possible is not the same as probable, though.

The first tip on dealing with side effects is to remember that your doctor’s professional judgement was that the benefits from a specific medication outweigh the odds of significant difficulties from the medicine.  Most of those horrible things listed as a side effect only happen to a few people.  If two percent of people report a side effect, 98% of people don’t have that side effect.  Even if ten percent of people experience an unpleasant side effect, that means ninety percent didn’t.  The mind is powerful.  People even experience side effects with placebos.  If you think you’ll have trouble, you might just imagine your way into unpleasant side effects.  Think to yourself that you’ll be one of the people who tolerate your medications well.

It can be helpful to know that sometimes side effects are temporary.  Once your body adjusts, the side effects go away.

Another thing to remember is to follow directions.  If the instructions for a medication say to take it with food, then do it!  There’s a reason for those instructions.  If the med is supposed to be taken on an empty stomach, ask your doctor/pharmacist how long you must wait after eating.  With my mtx, I was told to wait at least two hours after eating – which really doesn’t seem very long.  I once took an antibiotic that had to be taken four hours after a meal – and then I couldn’t eat for at least an hour after taking it.  I wasn’t accustomed to going five hours without food!  Prilosec is something that I’ve heard many people say is ineffective – turns out that they take it with a meal.  The directions are pretty clear that this should be taken on an empty stomach.  Read the directions, and follow them.  It can make the medicine most effective, and minimize side effects.

Before beginning a new medication, ask your doctor if he knows any tricks for minimizing side effects.  Sulfasalazine is a DMARD that can be hard on the stomach.  However, if introduced gradually, people usually tolerate it well.

Sometimes side effects can be reduced by taking a medication at bedtime.  This allows you to sleep through any dizziness or nausea.

Sometimes little things can make a big difference.  If a medication says that constipation is a possible side effect, don’t try to live like a camel.  Drink plenty of water so that you don’t experience this side effect (or ask for another med to counteract this side effect).

Discuss your meds with your doctor.  Many people recommend splitting methotrexate – half the dose in the morning, and the other half in the evening.  This can be easier on your stomach.  Instead of listening to other patients, I asked my rheumy.  Although it’s easier on the stomach, it’s harder on the liver and isn’t considered a good idea – so it’s a good thing I asked.  Definitely discuss things with your doctor if you’re thinking of experimenting with your prescriptions.

Keep your appointments.  When a drug is potentially harmful to your liver or kidneys, your doctor will order bloodwork to keep an eye on things.  This allows potential problems to be caught early, when they’re easily reversible.  When a drug might affect your vision, make sure you see your eye doctor as frequently as recommended.

Know when to call your doctor.  Every prescription comes with the instructions, “phone your doctor immediately if any of these things occur…”  Don’t assume it’s safe to wait until your next routine appointment.  If you experience a side effect that is listed as a reason to call your doctor, pick up the phone.  This allows for immediate intervention instead of allowing the problem to progress.

Comments on a previous post discussed nausea.
Any other ideas on how to reduce unpleasant side effects from medications?

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3 thoughts on “Dealing With Side Effects

  1. Great post, WarmSocks. You never fail to educate me in the most clear, concise and pleasant way. As good as it is, and as wonderful as having skads of information at our fingertips is, sometimes too much info isn’t so great. When it comes to the side effects of the different drugs we have to use for RA and other diseases, knowing what they are can make us a bit too … aware? Sensitive? That said, I’d rather know than not know. I’m blathering. It’s late.

    Anyway. Thanks for the informative post. Also, thanks for the info on Raynaud’s in the previous post. I’d heard the term several times but didn’t really know what it was. Now (oh boy, here we go) I wonder if … because my hands HURT when I have to take something out of the freezer or put them in cold water … but they don’t turn white, or blue … oh, probably not. ;o)

  2. Thanks for another informative post. Though I’ve had side effects with some of my meds, I feel I’ve been really lucky so far not to have had any major ones – and the side effects I have experienced have all been fairly brief.

    Thanks, too, for the information on Raynaud’s. Like Wren, I didn’t really know what it was.

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