Drug Side Effects Explained
Louise Chang, MD
Dr. Chang completed her undergraduate degree at Stanford University and attended medical school at New York Medical College. She completed her internal medicine residency at Saint Vincent's Hospital in New York City, where she also served as a chief resident from 2001-2002. Dr. Chang is board-certified in internal medicine.
It doesn't matter whether we're talking about aspirin or the most sophisticated pharmaceutical on the market, all drugs come with side effects. Many are minor, some are just an inconvenience, a few are serious, and some are just plain strange.
Perhaps the most common set of side effects for drugs taken internally involves the gastrointestinal system. Nearly any drug can cause nausea or an upset stomach, though it may only happen to a handful of users. For drugs used externally, skin irritation is a common complaint.
Drug Side Effects: Types
Other side effects simply “come with the territory.” Some drugs can't help but trigger side effects because of their chemical structure. One example is the common allergy drug diphenhydramine (also known by the brand name Benadryl). Though it eases allergy symptoms, it also suppresses the activity of the body chemical acetylcholine, and that leads to drowsiness and a host of other side effects, including dry mouth.
Some drugs have barely noticeable side effects when dosed properly. For example, Warfarin (Jantoven, Coumadin) used to prevent blood clots, is usually well tolerated, but serious internal bleeding can occur.
Side effects may only pop up when certain drugs are mixed with certain other things. These might also be considered drug interactions. Drinking alcohol with narcotic painkillers can lead to trouble breathing. Drinking grapefruit juice can affect the blood levels of several drugs, including the heart drug digoxin.
To find more about a drug's side effects, information about them is available on the label of over-the-counter drug products and on package inserts or printed materials dispensed with prescription drugs. You can also talk to your pharmacist or doctor if you have any questions regarding a drug's side effects.
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