Karin & David Henderson

21362 River Road

Maple Ridge, B.C.

Canada V2X 2B3

604-463-8666 (PST)

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Are Your Drugs Making You Sick?

An interesting exercise for you to do sometime is to take a really good drug site or book and one of your personal prescriptions or "over the counter" medicines, and check them out for side effects. In Canada, the CPS would be appropriate and in the USA, it would be the Physician's Desk Reference. Internet-wise, is a great site.

Use the generic or trade name and read the side effects or the possible complications. Look for this heading:

Side Effects of This Medicine

Along with its needed effects, a medicine may cause some unwanted effects. Although not all of these side effects may occur, if they do occur they may need medical attention."

(This is a note in most drug books and you really should look for it for your own particular medication.)

Read the descriptions, and if you don't understand a term, look it up. Don't be afraid of what you might find…that's good as the fear is alerting you to a potential problem. Please remember this is your body and these chemicals are going into it WITH your consent.

For example, if you looked up "anti-depressants, two of the side effects listed are dizziness and tiredness. Now if I was already depressed, I wouldn't appreciate being dizzy and tired as well. I might accept them, if the treatment helped, but it would an informed choice. So be knowledgeable about your health: no will ever care as much about it as you will. (And you have to LIVE in the body!)

Drug Interactions Or Side Effects: Not To Be Taken Lightly Or Ignored Altogether.

This past weekend I spent hours doing research on drug interactions for a lovely young lady of 73! She was on two medications for one of her conditions and three for another. Then she was also on something to help her prevent bone density loss. Our concern for her was the possible side effects and interactions. Initially she went to her doctor to get some help with her dizziness. Eventually she wasn't much better. In fact
she thought she was worse off than before.

I started my usual search in Medline   I added the drug name and quickly moved to the next stage. I always go to the "Medical Encyclopedia" section. It's the easiest to understand.  My first mistake was to do the search for the one drug I wasn't familiar with. I thought I knew the others fairly well and felt I could think the "connections" through without doing much more searching. However what I found with the first search really concerned me. Consequently, I did very careful searches for all the others.

Here's why I know it was a "mistake".  If I had checked the other drugs first, I would have concluded this one would be fine.  But having done the unknown one first, and finding it to be labeled something along the lines of being the corrective measure for such drug overdoses, I now really read every word very carefully. I would have been lulled into a false sense of security and totally missed the cautionary note.  Not good. Good lesson for me to learn. I found some disturbing results.

I am not a pharmacist and I don't choose to be one. But I am having some difficulty knowing who to send people to for this kind of professional support or interpretation. The problem may lie in the fact that clinics are often the main health providers. You frequently don't get the same doctor or nurse clinician.

If you are already on some sort of medication, chances are the attending physician won't know you, or be familiar with your medical history. There is never enough time for them to read your history or to check for drugs. You are simply prescribed something for the "presenting" condition. If you are already on something for this "presenting condition" and now given another medication, that makes two. And if you have side effects from one, could you maybe have more from the next one? And what does it do to your body?

When I am asked to do this type of search, it is usually with some underlying question
or reason. In most cases, it's because they already have interactions or side effects, and can't tolerate the product.  But they are not too keen to go back to their clinic and ask to be given something else. 

For example, you go with the "complaint" of dizziness, and you are prescribed something that should help.  But many of those drugs already have dizziness as a side effect. So now you have the original complaint and the new side effect. But unless you are savvy about doing this kind of search, you won't know anything about side effects until after you have paid for the prescription. A little late.

Nowadays, some people are given a  "drug combination". So now you need to compare all these for possible interactions. A very challenging, time consuming, and frustrating job! Do a search sometime. You will find many medications have side effects of dizziness. My friend was also prescribed another batch of drugs for her second condition. Alas, two of those said they shouldn't be taken with the other condition's drugs! And the calcium product was not to be taken with some of these. So how was she to know what to take? All she knew was that she was dizzy and the drugs were seemingly making her dizzier! And at 73, she is a bit intimidated to ask "her" doctor to help her sort all this out.

Each time I spoke with her, the previous doctor had left that clinic, and the new one didn't know her situation. One of her conditions had to do with sinus congestion. For that she took some "over the counter" meds or "OTC". Did anyone know?  Nope! So here was another set of possible complications. I wrote an article a while back about the "rebound" effect of certain medications. It simply means that in some drug products, if you take more than the prescribed daily dose, the drug works against you!

All these drugs, taken independently, look pretty innocent.  You can probably tolerate the side effects without too much trouble. But taken in groups, they pose a potentially-serious problem. I honestly don't know who to send you or my friend to, except the Medline link. You must do some very detailed research for yourself.

It is the same caution I give for surgical consents. Read ALL the possible side effects and complications.  If you can live with them, go ahead. But if they are too debilitating, you MUST ask for more information and a second opinion. By law, this information has to be included. Someone has to have ended up with these negative results. For instance I spoke with someone tonight who had a surgical procedure for
which the surgeon gave her a 90% success rate. So 10% of the people who had this surgery had a failure. If this is you, can you live with being one of that 10%? It's the same with drugs.  Someone has to have these side effects. Or interactions. In my friends' case, all her drugs had similar warnings, yet she was prescribed all of them. Then I realized why the last drug, the newest one, was prescribed. Why she wasn't taken off any, I don't know. I used to send people to their pharmacist for a "profile", but I don't think they are doing those any longer.

One of my students printed off 9 PAGES of fine print for her medical condition. Needless to say, she didn't understand most of it despite having a medical terminology background. 

The other sad thing I notice, no one offers any non-drug treatment suggestions. My friend has sinus congestion. It would be very easy to show her how to clean them quickly and without drugs.  Here is a link to the Sinus Cleaning article if you want to try it.

So in the end you are the one person who has your own interest at heart and health. Please read everything you can about your condition(s). Ask detailed questions. Write out all the drugs you are on and side effects, including any you may be having.  Make it as easy as possible for your medical practitioner to give you the best service possible. It may seem a bit "redundant" if you have a great specialist, but hopefully they won't mind. And really appreciate those doctors who know your pharmaceutical history. But do start to take full responsibility for your own health and that of your family.

Drugs have a very important role to play in our lives, but they should not be fooled with or taken for granted. What did I finally do with my friend? I sent a lot of information of my "discoveries" to her family and suggested they study this with her. Then, if they could, to please go with her to her next doctor's visit. Hear what is being suggested.

If another drug is to be part of the discussion, ask for interactions and possible side effects, and how this would fit into her present medical profile. Most people don't believe there is "power" in taking someone to your appointments. There is. Use it.


By Karin Henderson - Nurse, Retired.



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