Why should I know the side effects of my medication?

Why should I know the side effects of my medication?
The left-hand column below lists the 10 most commonly prescribed medications in the U.S. in the order of the frequency that they are prescribed. In the right column are the most common side effects of these medications in no particular order.  See if you can match the medication with its most common side effects.  In some cases, there may be overlap in the side effects that these medications cause, but there will be at least one in the list of symptoms that is specific for that medication. 

Recognize that any of these medications can produce allergic reactions, with symptoms that include rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; and swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue.  Additionally, almost all of these drugs can cause mild-to-moderate gastrointestinal upset, such as stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.  This matching exercise does not include some of the more severe, but much less common, side effects of these medications.  The answers will be provided at the bottom of this page.


Medication

Side Effects
1. Hydrocodone  (may be combined with acetaminophen as Vicodin) a) Dizziness; light-headedness; temporary blurred vision;  joint pain, swelling, warmth, or redness (especially of the big toe joint)

2. Simvastatin (Zocor), a cholesterol-lowering statin drug b) Cough; diarrhea; dizziness; headache; tiredness; symptoms of low blood pressure (e.g., fainting, severe dizziness, light-headedness).

3. Lisinopril (brand names include Prinivil and Zestril), a blood pressure drug c) Diarrhea in up to 10% of patients; gas; metallic taste in mouth; headache; nausea

4. Levothyroxine (Synthroid), synthetic thyroid hormone d) Side effects in order of frequency are headache, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and excess gas
5. Amlodipine (Norvasc), an angina/blood pressure drug e) Constipation; headache; muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness

6. Omeprazole (Prilosec), an antacid drug f) Blurred vision; constipation; difficulty breathing; dizziness; drowsiness; flushing; lightheadedness; mental/mood changes.

7. Azithromycin (brand names include Z-Pak and Zithromax), an antibiotic g) Excessive sweating; diarrhea; fast or irregular heartbeat; fever; heat intolerance; mood changes (e.g., anxiety, irritability, nervousness); tremors; trouble sleeping

8. Amoxicillin (various brand names), an antibiotic h) Allergic reactions have been reported in up to 10% of patients and have included rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue

9. Metformin (Glucophage), a diabetes drug i) Lower leg swelling; fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat; facial flushing, and dizziness, particularly at higher dosages (e.g. 10 mg daily).

10. Hydrochlorothiazide (various brand names), a water pill used to lower blood pressure, sometimes paired with a second anti-hypertensive medication

j) Gastrointestinal side effects have included nausea, abdominal discomfort, vomiting, and diarrhea in up to 10% of patients.

It makes no difference if you are taking a prescription drug, an herbal remedy, or an over-the-counter supplement – all have the potential to cause side effects.  Odds are high that most readers are taking or have taken at least one of these medications.  In a study performed in 2002, an alarming one in four patients taking a prescription medication suffered observable side effects.  Be aware also that side effects may occur when certain medications are taken together or mixed with food or alcohol.  Be alert to the possibility that a symptom that develops after starting a new medication could be due to a medication side effect. 

To learn more about a medication’s side effects, be sure and read the package insert or printed materials that come with a prescription medication or read the label of over-the-counter products.  You can also talk to your pharmacist or doctor if you have any questions regarding a drug’s side effects.  While some side effects may be more of a nuisance that anything else, some can be quite serious and require immediate medical attention.

Answers:  1. f; 2. e; 3. b; 4.g; 5. i; 6. d; 7. j; 8. h; 9. c; 10. a

If you have any more questions just Ask Hanna, our health advisors are here to help.
Image: ©Shutterstock / TierneyMJi

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