Drugs: Read Fine Print to Avoid Side Effects

Pat awoke 1 recent morning with cold symptoms. She reached into her medicine cabinet for a well-known over-the-counter cold remedy she had often used in the past.

An hour later, Pat was on the phone to her doctor, describing in a panicky voice that her heart was beating abnormally fast, she had shortness of breath, and blurry vision.

It turned out that Pat, whose doctor had recently put her on a prescription antidepressant, was feeling the frightening result of one drug causing an effect on another drug. Fortunately, the effects were mild and wore off within a few hours.

But Pat's experience shows the value of reading the information that comes with all drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter medications. If Pat had read the information leaflet that came with her prescription, she would have known not to take the sinus medication with her new prescription medication.

You see plenty of this type of medication information these days, because many manufacturers of prescription drugs regularly advertise in magazines, newspapers, television, and other media. Such information is also available with over-the-counter drugs and with any prescription drugs you may use. The FDA and the Federal Trade Commission have rules requiring which warnings about side effects and interactions must be included in advertising. If your pharmacist doesn't hand you an information leaflet with your prescription, don't hesitate to ask for it.

Are you supposed to read all of it?

A lot of consumers are asking that question these days. In fact, the "fine print" is what's known as "Prescribing Information" or "Patient Information." It's required by the FDA to balance the information a company put in their drug advertisement.

Experts agree that consumers who want to be know as much as they can should read the fine print connected with any drug that they plan to use.

Prescribing and Patient Information leaflets contain the necessary information of a prescription drug for its safe and effective use. Prescribing information is used by health care professionals. You can also use the patient information to learn:

  • The diseases or conditions the drug treats

  • The dose needed

  • Which patients should not receive the drug

  • Other drugs that should not be taken together with the drug

  • Side effects that can occur

  • How the drug should be stored

This information might at first appear to be a bit frightening. FDA rules require drug advertisements to carry a list of every side effect that occurred during testing, whether it affected 25 out of 100 patients, or just 1 out of 5,000 patients. For example, the patient Information that accompanies a magazine ad for a typical drug might state that the drug can cause dry mouth, dizziness, blurred vision, and even hepatitis, a sometimes-fatal liver disease.

That may sound like a good reason to avoid the drug, but you need to look at the information in the correct way, experts say. Given the right circumstances, every drug can cause side effects even aspirin.

If you are not sure if the information you read applies to you or want help figuring out what you read, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist.