7 Tips for Coping With the Side Effects of Prescription Drugs

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Nearly 70% of people in the U.S. take prescription medication. For most, dealing with the negative side effects of prescription drugs is a daily reality. But you needn’t be on the back foot when managing these adverse reactions.

Here are 7 tips that will help you manage your medication side effects, so you can be proactive with your health and wellbeing.

What Is a Side Effect?

A medication side effect is a secondary, unintended effect of a drug or medical treatment.

Typically these effects are undesirable – no one wants an upset stomach or dizziness.

In some cases, adverse side effects of medication can endanger your health, wellbeing, or even your life (more info here).

Side effects are often different from person to person. Where one individual will experience no side effects, another might experience several. This is why doctors will track your progress in the first few weeks of starting a new drug.

1. Know What to Expect

Knowing is half the battle. Whenever you start on a new medication you should familiarise yourself with its potential side effects.

Knowing what to expect will help you establish coping strategies early. You’ll also know what symptoms to take seriously if they present.

A lot of medications have common, mild side effects. Stomach problems are particularly common because the drugs pass through your digestive system. But there are more serious side effects.

You should familiarize yourself with any dangerous side effects associated with your medication. Knowing when to seek medical help could save your life.

2. Be Mindful of Drug Interactions

Your doctors should be made aware of any other medications you’re taking if you’re being prescribed a new drug. This will ensure that any adverse drug interactions can be avoided.

But it’s not just prescription medication you should be upfront with. Alcohol, caffeine, or even vitamins and supplements can interact with certain prescription medications.

If you take regular dietary supplements or vitamins, be sure to mention them to your doctor so they can flag any potential adverse interactions.

You should also be mindful of your alcohol consumption while on prescription medication. Alcohol can hinder the effectiveness of some medications. Some prescription drugs can also impact on the way alcohol affects you.

3. Monitor the Impact of the Side Effect

Side effects themselves aren’t just different from person to person, their impact on you is also an individual experience.

What might be an annoying side effect for one person might be unbearable for another. For instance, weight gain might present as frustrating for one person, but for someone recovering from an eating disorder, the weight fluctuation could cause them to relapse.

If you’re experiencing a side effect that others consider mild but you find personally disruptive, then don’t be afraid to speak up. Don’t let other people dictate your own experience to you.

This applies to medical professionals as well.

Doctors aren’t infallible – they can sometimes dismiss side effects as mild when their personal impact on you is anything but. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground and, if met with increased resistance, seek a second opinion.

4. Keep a Record

You should closely monitor your health when you start a new medication. This will help you pick up any adverse effects of medication when they first present. It can also help you monitor the impact of any side effects.

There are a lot of health apps available to track things like your bowel movements, your nutrition habits, your sleep habits, and so on. Others are specific to managing medication symptoms in particular.

If you’re not particularly tech-minded, don’t worry – a simple notebook will also do the trick.

Make sure to take your records with you to any medical appointments so you can go through them with your doctor.

5. Follow Instructions

All prescription medication comes with instructions on how you should take it. Following these instructions not only ensures the medication works correctly, it can also mitigate unwanted side effects.

If a medication makes most people lethargic then your doctor might instruct you to take it at night. This will prevent this side effect from impacting your function during the day. Medications that act as stimulants are often taken in the morning for the opposite reason. Taken at night, stimulants could affect your ability to sleep.

You should take particular notice of any instructions regarding food intake. Some medications can make you nauseous if taken on an empty stomach, so you should make sure you take them with food.

You should also follow your dosage instructions. Sometimes certain side effects can come or go depending on the dosage you’re on. This is why your doctors will often start you on a low dose of a drug. It lets them step you up gradually while monitoring for unwanted side effects.

6. Give It Time

Many side effects are transitory, meaning they’ll often subside given enough time. Just like you’d need time to settle into a new job, your body will often have an adjustment period to new drugs.

If your side effects persist long-term, or if they’re adversely affecting your ability to function, then it might be time to consider switching to a new medication. There are a lot of drugs on the market today. If one medication doesn’t work for you then your doctor can help you find one that does.

7. If In Doubt, Seek Help

If you present with symptoms that worry you then you should seek help from a medical professional. It’s their job to know the ins and outs of medication side effects. They’ll be able to advise you on a course of action to take.

If you’re hesitant to present at your doctor’s office for any reason, a good first step is to talk to your pharmacist. They’ll also have a broad understanding of medication side effects and will be able to help you assess the seriousness of your symptoms.

Side Effects of Prescription Drugs Are an Unfortunate Reality

The positive effects of prescription drugs often far outweigh the negative side effects you may encounter. With these tips, you’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions about the medication you’re prescribed.

And remember: if in doubt, seek advice from a medical professional.

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