The Common Medication Side Effects You Shouldn’t Ignore

Dr. Lauren Motto, PharmD

Everyone thinks the same thing when they hear a drug commercial: what a long list of side effects! There are so many different tablets, capsules, injections, and patches out there on the market and it seems like all of them have lists of side effects a mile long. Although certain drugs do have potentially dangerous or life-threatening side effects (which are also called adverse events), the good news is that the FDA won’t approve something if the benefits did not outweigh the risks.

A big thing to think about with medications is how likely an adverse event is to happen to you. A side effect that occurs in 30% of users may sound like a small risk, but if 300,000 out of 1 million total get side effects when using this drug, it sounds a lot scarier. At the same time, some side effects aren’t as bad as others. For example, feeling a bit sleepy after taking a pill at night probably doesn’t sound as bad as taking something that could cause severe weight gain. There are even drugs with good side effects, such as hair growth or clearing acne breakouts.

The most common adverse events [from taking medications] are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and headache.

What’s important to remember is that every drug has a different list of side effects and it’s important to understand what you are getting yourself into before starting any new medication. You need to know your health preferences and what you can handle. These are the most common adverse events:

1. Nausea

2. Vomiting

3. Diarrhea

4. Headache

* Note dehydration can occur as a result or cause of the above side effects.

For short-term courses of medication, such as an antibiotic, these may be uncomfortable and unwanted but still manageable for the short duration of the drug doses. You may not feel the same way if the medication was for a chronic condition lasting several years. No one wants to feel horrible all the time, so talking with your doctor about the best way to manage the side effects of your medication is key.

Some of the more common side effects can be manged at home without needing to stop the medication completely. If you ever are having difficulty breathing, develop a rash, or feel that something isn’t right, contact your doctor immediately. If you are experiencing any of the four most common symptoms, here’s some advice on what to do:

Nausea

Try taking your medication with a small meal or snack, and drink a full glass of water, slowly.

Vomiting / diarrhea

Try to avoid taking your medication on an empty stomach. If you do experience vomiting and diarrhea, replace your lost fluids and electrolytes with an oral rehydration solution.

Headache

If a headache occurs, or to avoid a headache entirely, make sure to stay hydrated. Consider using an over-the-counter pain reliever if recommended by your doctor.