Dealing with Medication Side Effects

Published on 30 July 2014

Full story...The Wall Street Journal reports as many as half of all U.S. patients on medication for chronic diseases aren’t following the doctor’s orders. Patients are missing doses, not refilling prescriptions, or not taking medication at all.  One reason could be the experience or anticipation of side effects. St. Louis College of Pharmacy Assistant Professor Jamie Shelly, Pharm.D., explains five ways she works with patients on managing side effects.

It’s important that I share the most common side effects with the patient and that patients understand many side effects are extremely rare. There are also techniques to prevent or lessen side effects. It could be a matter of taking medication with food to avoid an upset stomach, or completely avoiding alcohol while on the medication.

Some side effects are temporary. I like having a light at the end of the tunnel, and many patients I speak with feel the same way.  Knowing a side effect might only be temporary helps patients stay on their medication and take advantage of its full benefits.

Understand how the medication is helping. For patients dealing with side effects, or those who have stopped taking their medication because of a side effect, I make sure the patient understands the medication’s benefits versus the risk of not taking the medication.  In some cases that is really simple.  Medications that help prevent heart attacks and strokes can lengthen a patient’s life. 

Not all changes in health are medication side effects. I once had a patient who swore her medication was making her memory foggy. We talked about it and eventually came to the conclusion that her memory issue started months before she began the medication. 

Utilize a pharmacist’s services. When a patient tells me about a troublesome side effect, there are several options we can explore. It may be as simple as talking with the patient’s physician to recommend alternative medications or a change in dosage. We can also try and treat the side effect with over-the-counter or other prescription medications. The entire health care team would rather see patients continue taking their medication, even at a reduced dose, than not take any medication at all.

About the author: Jamie Shelly, Pharm.D., is an assistant professor of pharmacy practice at St. Louis College of Pharmacy. She regularly consults patients about their medication at her community pharmacy practice site.

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