Reading Labels; Understanding Side Effects

We all know people don’t read labels on their medications or their over-the-counter (OTC) pills. If they did, their eyes would gloss over, and they would start to worry about all the side effects. Of course, this is a problem since some things can create drug-drug interactions or create an overdose.

I was reading an article in USA Today called “Read the labels because ‘all drugs have side effects’“. It lists out Tylenol, Advil, Motrin, Benadryl, Claritin, and Zantac as examples of OTC medications with overdose risks. It gives more details on these and provides several other examples. Here’s a quote from the article:

“It’s important for the public to realize that all drugs have side effects. It doesn’t matter if they’re prescription, over-the-counter, herbals or nutritional supplements. If they have active ingredients, they have side effects and can interfere with normal body functions.” Brian Strom, director of the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the University of Pennsylvania

The reality is that we’re making an unconscious choice about tradeoffs. Do the risks and probabilities of the side effects outweigh the probabilities of improvement?  Of course, in many situations, they do. 

I think this points to several things:

  • Document everything you take whether it’s an Rx, OTC, herbal, or supplement.
  • Read labels.
  • Tell your MD and Pharmacist what your taking especially if it’s regular and long-term.

Ideally, once we have broad use of PHRs (personal health records) which are tied into our grocery bills to track purchases and use then computer algorithms can look for risk factors. And, with personalized medicine, we might one day know which things to avoid based on our genes.

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