The use of prescription and over-the-counter medications is often associated with side effects and undesired symptoms, which are sometimes more serious than the condition being treated.
Side effects can occur when starting, stopping, or changing the dose of a medication as the body reacts to the addition or subtraction of the substance in the body.
Drug interactions can also cause drug side effects and potentially dangerous toxicity reactions when medications are combined with the use of other drugs or with certain food, drinks, vitamins, or herbal supplements. See www.drugwatch.com.
The following list includes some of the most commonly reported side effects of prescription and over-the-counter medications.
Noticeable hair thinning or bald patches can occur with certain medications that interfere with hormone levels or the normal cycle of hair growth on the scalp or other areas of the body. Excessive hair loss may be noticed after showering or combing the hair. Medications known to cause hair loss include oral acne medications, antibiotics, antidepressants, birth control pills, cholesterol medications, chemotherapy treatments, weight loss drugs, thyroid medications, antihypertensives, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen.
Depression is an overwhelming condition characterized by a loss of interest in normal activities, feelings of guilt and helplessness, insomnia, low energy, difficulty concentrating, and sudden changes in weight. Certain medications act on chemical in the brain and may cause extreme mood swings, depression, and even suicidal thoughts, including oral contraceptives, oral acne medications such as Accutane, statin medications for high cholesterol, high blood pressure medications, seizure treatments, estrogens, opioids, and certain anxiety and insomnia medications.
Millions of patients report experiencing tinnitus, or a continuous noise in the ears described as a buzzing, ringing, clicking, hissing, roaring, or whistling sound. Tinnitus is a side effect of an estimated 450 different medications, including antidepressants, blood pressure medications, pain killers, antibiotics, anti-malarial drugs, and drugs for erectile dysfunction. Some cases of tinnitus can be permanent.
Headaches, or pain occurring in the head or neck region, are a common side effect of most medications, especially oral birth control pills, hormone replacement drugs, and even headache medications when they are overused. Headaches can cause throbbing sensations, sharp pain, or a dull ache, and can last for a few minutes or for several days.
Blurred vision occurs when there is a loss of sharpness in vision, blind spots, dimness in vision, or an inability to see small details. Medications that can cause vision disturbances and blurred vision include amphetamines, antidepressants, antihistamines, oral birth control pills, Parkinson’s disease medications, corticosteroids, and many other medications.
Nausea is usually described as an uneasy or ill feeling in the stomach, sometimes accompanied by an urge to vomit. It is a side effect of many medications, including chemotherapy and antidepressants, and can also occur when multiple medications are taken at one time.
Some medications may cause a decrease in bowel movement frequency (fewer than three per week), or bowels movements that are painful, hard, or dry. Overuse of laxatives and the use of iron supplements, antacids containing aluminum, antidepressants, narcotic pain killers, diuretics, muscle relaxants, high blood pressure medications, seizure drugs, and antipsychotics may cause constipation in some patients.
An allergic reaction to a medication can be life-threatening and occur without warning, with symptoms of wheezing, difficulty swallowing, hoarse voice, swelling of the tongue and throat, hives, rash, chest tightness, and fainting. Patients may be unaware that they are hypersensitive to a certain medication, but emergency medical attention is necessary once a reaction has occurred. All types of medications have the potential to cause allergic reactions.