Every drug has side effects. Although some side effects of medications are well known, some people will have unique reactions to various medications that are not well documented. This is particularly true when a patient is taking more than one medication, or using herbal or “natural” remedies along with other prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
When more than one chemical product is ingested, the potential for negative reactions begins to multiply. Never assume that any drug, medication or remedy (herbal or otherwise) is truly safe and free of side effects. All of these products have the potential for unwanted effects. Some side effects can be serious or fatal.
Among the more commonly prescribed medications that have considerable potential for negative side effects are pain relievers. Pain relievers are generally classified as narcotic or non-narcotic. These two types of drugs act differently in your system.
The narcotic group can have side effects including dry mouth, confusion, light-headedness or dizziness, constipation, drowsiness, nausea or vomiting, headache, difficult urination, itching, and in severe cases, possibly loss of consciousness or death.
Non-narcotic pain medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and others. Many over-the-counter drugs contain these or other NSAIDs. Brand names vary, but there are hundreds of available products with these common ingredients.
The most common side effects from non-narcotic pain drugs are gas, bloating, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, decreased appetite, rash, dizziness, headache, and drowsiness. NSAIDs may also cause fluid retention, leading to edema. The most serious side effects are kidney failure, liver failure, ulcers and prolonged bleeding after an injury or surgery.
NSAIDs carry serious risks that should be understood. Cleveland Clinic presents the following warning regarding NSAIDs:
• Non-aspirin NSAIDs can increase the chance of heart attack or stroke. This risk may be greater if you have heart disease or risk factors (for example, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes) for heart disease. However, the risk may also be increased in people who do not have heart disease or those risk factors. This risk can occur early in treatment and may increase with longer use.
• Heart problems caused by non-aspirin NSAIDs can happen within the first weeks of use and may happen more frequently with higher doses or with long-term use.
• Non-aspirin NSAIDs should not be used right before or after heart bypass surgery.
This warning is for all NSAIDs including aspirin:
NSAIDs may increase the chance of serious stomach and bowel side effects like ulcers and bleeding. These side effects can occur without warning signs. This risk may be greater in people who:
• Are older.
• Have previous history of stomach ulcers or bleeding problems.
• Are on blood thinners.
• Are on multiple prescription or over-the-counter NSAIDs.
• Drink three or more alcoholic beverages per day.
Although side effects cannot be eliminated completely, there are some steps you can take to minimize your chances of experiencing them. Here are five tips.
- 1. Read the label. Often overlooked is the information included with the package that details the risks of known side effects and instructions on how to take the medication. This information can be very important and should not be ignored.
- 2. Don’t take multiple medications if you can avoid it. Every additional product you consume increases your chances of a negative reaction. This includes prescription, over-the-counter and herbal remedies.
- 3. Don’t self-medicate. Other than taking over-the-counter prescription drugs as indicated, it is never wise to make your own decisions about taking medications unless you have proper training. (It is amazing what you probably don’t know about the medications that are already in your home.)
- 4. Tell your doctors, providers and pharmacists about every product you take. If your doctors don’t know you are taking a product, it is impossible to realize that there could be an interaction. It is a good idea to update the list of products that you take routinely or occasionally.
- 5. Take the medication as recommended. It may seem simple that if a prescribed dosage doesn’t relieve the pain as well as you think it should, “kicking it up a notch” by doubling the dosage will help. Some drugs take time to build up in your system and you could inadvertently cause damage by increasing the dosage.
Bonus Tip: Finally, the best option in many cases — don’t take pain drugs at all. For millions of patients, it is entirely possible to avoid pain medications and any risk of chemical side effects by finding drug-free solutions for pain.
Consider trying chiropractic or acupuncture. These forms of treatment are often surprisingly successful in bringing relief for all sorts of pain. In most cases, the relief is long-lasting as well. The objective in these forms of treatment is to help your body function more properly so that the cause of the pain is eliminated. Many patients are surprised by how effective these drug-free forms of care can be.
Dr. Mark Kestner is a licensed chiropractic physician in Murfreesboro. His office is at 1435 NW Broad St. Contact him at mkestner@DrKestner.com.