5 of the Most Common Drug Side Effects

5 of the Most Common Drug Side Effects
5 of the Most Common Drug Side Effects
Emma Yasinski
Emma Yasinski Staff Writer

Read through MedShadow’s coverage of the side effects of drugs and you’ll see many of the same side effects mentioned over and over. For example, patients report nausea after taking a whole host of drugs, such as those for Lupus, HIV prevention, cancer and more.

It’s crucial to differentiate side effects from symptoms, explains Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, founder of the Pharmacist Moms Group, so that you and your healthcare provider can work together to improve your care. She says, when she works with patients who are experiencing new symptoms or side effects, the first step is for her to take a detailed medical history. That means asking the patient not only about the drugs they’ve been prescribed, but any over-the-counter (OTC) treatments they may be using or supplements they take regularly.

Here are five of the most common side effects healthcare providers tell us they see most often:

1. Nausea and Diarrhea

Almost any drug you take at home has to travel through your digestive system and be absorbed into your body, explains Usmarah Hussein, MBBS, a physician and medical writer. That route gives them the opportunity to cause digestive disturbances, one of the most common side effects patients experience. 

Some drugs do so by increasing the acid in your stomach, causing reflux

“Over-the-counter painkillers are notorious for causing gastrointestinal inflammation and chronic gastritis,”  says Beth Hawkes RN-BC, owner of Nursecode.”Many of these prescription-free, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are actually quite acidic and can damage the gut lining if taken consistently. Ibuprofen, Voltaren, and Naproxen are among the most common to cause gastric irritation.”

But other drugs may cause digestive distress in other ways. For example, antibiotics are well known for causing diarrhea. Your physician may prescribe them in hopes of killing infection-causing bacteria, but antibiotics rarely discriminate; they generally kill all bacteria, including lots of healthy bacteria in your gut that help you digest food.

Scott Frenzel told MedShadow that, when he started taking PrEP, (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to prevent HIV, he felt lucky that nausea was the only side effect he experienced.

What You Can Do

Read your drug labels carefully. Some will tell you that the treatment needs to be taken with a meal or a full glass of water, explains Soliman. Nancy Mitchell, Registered Nurse and contributing writer at Assisted Living Center, suggests that eating half your meal, taking your pill, then finishing your meal may help.

If you’ve been prescribed antibiotics, try eating fermented foods with natural probiotics in them such as yogurt with live cultures or kimchi.

Some Drugs Known to Cause Nausea

  • Antibiotics
  • Chemotherapy
  • Birth control pills
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Opioids

2. Rashes and Hives

A common side effects of drugs is allergic reactions such as hives. They can also raise your sensitivity to heat and sun, and cause uncomfortable rashes. It’s not always easy to tell which skin reactions are acutely dangerous and which are not. 

It’s best to give your healthcare provider a call right away if you notice a skin reaction to a new drug. No matter how much Samantha Welch tried to avoid the sun when she took isotretinoin, an acne drug, she told MedShadow that her skin became dry and flaky. If she did go outside during midday over the 11 months she took the drug, her skin would sting even if she wore sunscreen.

What You Can Do

If your reaction is triggered by sunlight, you can reduce your exposure by trying to stay inside during the middle of the day, covering up with hats and long sleeves, or wearing sunscreen.

Some Drugs Known to Cause Skin Reactions

  • Chemotherapy
  • Statins
  • St. John’s Wort

3. Dizziness

Disruption to your eyes, ears, or nerves can cause dizziness, as well as changes in blood sugar, blood pressure, or hydration.

What You Can Do

Stay hydrated. Take steps to avoid falls, like wearing comfortable sneakers or using a cane or walker. Keep your home well-lit to ensure you can see any obstacles in your path. 

Of course, it’s also important to talk to your healthcare provider about any dizziness you’re experiencing. 

“Changing the time of consumption may also help in some cases, said Hussien. For example, if you are on four blood pressure medicines, you may not want to take them all at once to avoid feeling dizzy. Alternatively, an antidepressant can be taken just before bedtime so that the dizziness it commonly induces doesn’t affect your daily functioning.” saysHussein. 

Some Drugs Known to  Cause Dizziness

  • Antibiotics
  • anti-inflammatory drugs
  • antidepressants
  • antimalarials
  • antipsychotics
  • diuretics
  • mucolytics
  • cholesterol-lowering drugs
  • Parkinson’s disease medications

4. Changes in Blood Pressure

Many drugs, ranging from antidepressants to the caffeine in your morning coffee, can either raise or lower your blood pressure. You might not even feel symptoms, but it’s important to note any substantial changes using a blood pressure cuff at home or at your healthcare provider’s office. High blood pressure can raise your risk of having a heart attack, while low blood pressure can cause dizziness and fainting. This common side effect can be particularly troubling.

What You Can Do

Monitor your blood pressure regularly and be sure to review all prescriptions with your healthcare provider and pharmacist. Often, drugs that don’t have an impact on your blood pressure on their own can have dramatic effects if combined with other treatments. If your blood pressure is high, exercise can help. Consider a stroll in the forest for additional health benefits.

Some Drugs Known To Raise Blood Pressure

Some Drugs Known to Lower Blood PressureDiuretics

  • Opioids
  • Drugs for Parkinson’s disease, such as Mirapex (pramipexole) or those containing L-Dopa (levodopa)

5. Anxiety

You may experience anxiety as a result of a new diagnosis, but you also may start to feel it as a side effect when you start to take a new medication. As mentioned above, many medicines can raise your heart rate, which can make you feel anxious. Others cause stress by dehydrating you or acting directly on your brain.

Some Drugs Known to Cause Anxiety

  • Antibiotics
  • corticosteroids
  • Caffeine
  • Bronchodilators for COPD or asthma
  • Diuretics
  • Ritalin

What You Can Do

In addition to speaking with your healthcare provider, there are many lifestyle interventions that can help ease anxiety such as prioritizing sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet. You can also try cognitive behavioral therapy, breathing exercises, meditation and, if possible, making time to destress.

How to Identify and Manage Common Side Effects

If you think you’re experiencing a side effect, make sure to talk to your healthcare provider or a pharmacist before you change the way you take your medication or discontinue use. One of the best ways to notice changes in your symptoms or side effects early, and bring them to the attention of your healthcare provider, is to track your symptoms using an app or journal. 

DISCLAIMER: MedShadow provides information and resources related to medications, their effects, and potential side effects. However, it is important to note that we are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The content on our site is intended for educational and informational purposes only. Individuals dealing with medical conditions or symptoms should seek guidance from a licensed healthcare professional, such as a physician or pharmacist, who can provide personalized medical advice tailored to their specific circumstances.

While we strive to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information presented on MedShadow, we cannot guarantee its completeness or suitability for any particular individual's medical needs. Therefore, we strongly encourage users to consult with qualified healthcare professionals regarding any health-related concerns or decisions. By accessing and using MedShadow, you acknowledge and agree that the information provided on the site is not a substitute for professional medical advice and that you should always consult with a qualified healthcare provider for any medical concerns.

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