Around the world, many people are becoming increasingly aware of prescription drug side effects and some of the dangers of taking prescription medication. Though the right medications can offer a range of benefits, reducing symptoms and accelerating healing, most prescription medications can also cause unintentional outcomes and unwanted side effects.
Virtually every form of prescription medication, from flu medicine to antibiotics, comes with its own risks. The key to preserving, maintaining, and improving your health, is ensuring the risks of any treatment you take are outweighed by the benefits. If not, you must re-evaluate your treatment plan.
Unfortunately, since we all respond to medications in different ways and we all have a different drug response, it can be difficult for a doctor to predict how any individual will respond to any given prescription.
Being aware of the risks of prescription drugs means you can determine for yourself when you need to speak to your doctor, and consider an alternative treatment or more natural remedies.
Common Prescription Drug Side Effects
Prescription medications are carefully formulated solutions, designed to address specific problems. Prescription drugs differ from over-the-counter treatments, because they’re often highly regulated, and can be potentially dangerous when used incorrectly.
Various factors, including a rise in prescription drug abuse and misuse in recent years, and increased access to information about side effects, are prompting consumers to be more cautious with their medications.
Below are the most common prescription drug side effects to be aware of:
1. Drug Allergies
Approximately 5 to 10% of all negative drug reactions are caused by an allergy to one of the ingredients within the medication. This makes allergic responses one of the most common prescription drug side effects for many consumers.
Because they feature so many different ingredients and components, all medications have the potential to cause an allergic reaction. Everyone’s body responds to substances in unique ways, which means the response could be either mild, or extremely severe.
Drug allergies occur when the body’s immune system perceives an ingredient in a medication as a threat. This leads to inflammation, and the release of enzymes and substances which can lead to anaphylaxis, hives, rashes, and swelling.
While it’s difficult to determine in advance which drugs you may be sensitive to, a CircleDNA report can help. Your DNA test results will give you insight into which drugs you have a higher genetic risk of being allergic to, based on your DNA, as well as your genetic drug response and your genetic risk of opioid addiction.
2. Weight Gain
Weight changes are one of the most common prescription drug side effects. Substances within medications can either suppress, or increase your appetite, leading to a higher risk of over-eating and gaining weight.
Antidepressants, contraceptive pills, and corticosteroids can all stimulate weight gain by enhancing your appetite. Substances such as amitriptyline, prednisone, and fluoxetine can stimulate the release of certain hormones in the brain which prompt us to eat more than we might need on a constant basis.
There are also certain prescription drugs that can slow the performance of the metabolism. This means even if you eat the same amount, you could gain weight faster. Corticosteroids in particular can be quite problematic, as they can slow the metabolism, increase fluid retention, and contribute to a higher appetite.
3. Weight Loss
While some substances can increase appetite, and promote weight gain, others can make you feel less hungry, or cause nausea and sickness which lead to a loss of weight. Buproprion, used as an antidepressant medication, alters chemical levels in the brain and disrupts the hormones used to regulate dopamine and norepinephrine.
This medication is sometimes recommended for people who want to reduce cravings for various substances, including nicotine, alcohol, and food. One review found among adults taking antidepressant medications, only those using Bupropion lost weight.
Bupropion (Wellbutrin) is one of the few prescription antidepressants that doesn’t tend to cause weight gain, but rather could reduce appetite.
ADHD medications such as dexedrine, vyvanse and adderall are also known for reducing appetite.
While appetite suppression may seem like a good side effect for people who want to lose weight, it can quickly lead to problems. People with problematic appetites often suffer from malnourishment, and nutritional deficiencies. These appetite-suppressing medications could even result in night eating syndrome, when the effects of the meds start wearing off late at night.
4. Anxiety, Irritability, or Mood Swings
Another one of the most common prescription drug side effects is a change in mood. Many prescription medications, including stimulants, ADHD medication, steroids, and drugs for treating mental illness, adjust the balance of hormones in the brain, and can therefore change how you feel emotionally.
Stimulants such as amphetamines and steroidal asthma inhalers can worsen anxiety, by increasing activity in the sympathetic nervous system. In some cases, this can lead to an increased level of stress or panic. However, some people find their medications also increase hyperactivity and alertness, which can prompt additional issues with sleep and relaxation.
Stimulant drugs can lead to a variety of physical symptoms, such as tremors, and heart palpitations. They can often be particularly dangerous for people suffering from high levels of anxiety, or those with pre-existing heart conditions.
5. Grogginess, Brain Fog, and Trouble Concentrating
Brain fog, grogginess, or trouble concentrating are all common side effects of prescription drugs. Certain medications can make it harder for your brain to process signals normally, increasing feelings of fatigue and confusion.
Common culprits of these symptoms include antihistamines, typically used to treat allergic reactions, or promote good sleep. The sleeping pill zopiclone, for instance, can cause people to feel groggy after they wake up, and may make it harder to retain information.
Antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anticonvulsants used for seizures, depression, and other mental health conditions often include sedative components which can slow down the functioning of the brain. Additionally, alpha and beta blockers such as propranolol can reduce feelings of anxiety, but also create a sense of grogginess or sleepiness.
Drowsiness and brain fog not only disrupt your level of concentration, but could also lead to a greater risk of injury, through falls, or the improper operation of equipment.
6. Gastrointestinal Discomfort
Stomach pain, digestive problems, and gastrointestinal issues are commonly listed as a side effect for most prescription medication. One of the main reasons for this is medications can disrupt the functioning of the gut microbiome, leading to an imbalance in good and bad bacteria. The gut requires a healthy level of bacteria for immunity, digestion, and overall health.
Antibiotics are a common cause of gastrointestinal problems, as they often don’t distinguish between the good and bad bacteria in the body. Many people who take antibiotics suffer from nausea, gas, and diarrhea, as well as constipation. Statins, used to treat high levels of cholesterol, can also affect digestion and cause stomach pain.
Even over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can disrupt the balance of the gut, affecting the lining of your stomach, and causing irritation or acid reflux. Some doctors recommend eating food with certain medications to reduce the risk of side effects.
7. Dizziness and Poor Balance
Dizziness or difficulty with balance is usually caused by a disruption to the inner ear, or central nervous system. Certain medications can prompt feelings of dizziness, shakiness, or tremors, which make it difficult for you to maintain your balance. Certain substances, including anti-seizure drugs and beta blockers for high blood pressure, can also cause vertigo.
Dizziness is a common side effect of many medications which affect hormonal balance. Antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, and sedatives can all lead to dizziness and confusion. Any medication which might cause dizziness should be taken with caution. Most doctors will recommend avoiding the operation of heavy machinery or cars when using these prescriptions.
8. Sleep Problems
Sleep problems are another of the most prescription drug side effects. Our sleeping patterns are highly sensitive, and can be affected by a range of factors, from what we eat, to our routines.
Medications can create sleeping problems in a multitude of different ways. Some act as stimulants, which can alter the functioning of the central nervous system, causing us to feel more alert at inappropriate times. Medications can also cause side effects which make it difficult to sleep, such as nausea, diarrhea, and inflammation.
One of the most common culprits of sleep problems is actually prescription sleeping pills. Many of the medications used to treat sleep disorders can cause lasting grogginess which disrupt our natural sleeping patterns and circadian rhythm. Additionally, these drugs can quickly cause dependance, making it harder for some people to sleep once they stop taking the medications.
9. Addiction or Drug Dependance
According to some study, 12% of all prescription drug abusers are addicted to the substances they misuse. Prescription drug abuse is common, but often misunderstood. Many people become addicted to drugs because they feel they’re unable to manage their conditions without them.
If you become dependent on a certain medication, you may be convinced you need to continue using it to stay healthy. In some cases, people who stop taking the problematic substance will experience both emotional and physical symptoms of withdrawal, which can be quite severe.
Opioids such as codeine or other prescription painkillers are common drugs that cause addiction. However, people can also become addicted to standard painkillers and anti-inflammatories, as well as stimulants and sedatives. Once the brain is addicted to a substance, its structural and chemical composition changes, compelling us to seek out the medication and misuse it, regardless of potential consequences.
10. Organ Damage
While severe organ damage is rare among prescription medications, it is a possibility. While some substances can improve the functioning of certain mechanisms within the body, they can also damage the performance of specific organs.
Organ damage is one of the most dangerous prescription medication side effects, as it can be difficult to address. Over-exposure to certain medications is often the main cause of this problem. For instance, while antibiotics are excellent at eliminating infections, they can also create crystals which damage the performance of the kidneys, and lead to poor gastrointestinal function.
Diuretics, used for the treatment of swelling and high blood pressure assist the body in removing excess fluid, but can also lead to dehydration, which is damaging to all of the body’s organs. Many over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen can also increase the risk of organ damage.
Finding the Right Treatment Option
In most cases, your doctor will consider the common prescription drug side effects and potential risks mentioned above before offering you a medication. They’ll weigh the benefits of the treatment against the potential issues to help choose the right treatment.
However, if you find yourself suffering from a range of side effects and new substances after taking a prescription medication, you may need to consider an alternative remedy. This could mean switching to a different form of prescription treatment, or considering natural alternatives and herbal medicine.
Herbal supplements, CBD oil, massage therapy and essential oils are just some examples of natural remedies for health conditions that actually work for some people, making prescription drugs (and their risks) completely avoidable.
Certain health conditions are tough to treat with natural remedies alone, but conditions such as chronic pain and anxiety are examples of health conditions that can be treated naturally.
In some cases, even lifestyle changes such as dietary changes can be more effective than prescription drugs. Exercising and getting plenty of sleep can assist with depression and improve your mood.
For insights into the potential side effects of prescription drugs you may be more susceptible to, check out your CircleDNA report today.
- AAAAI: Medications and Drug Allergic Reactions: https://www.aaaai.org/tools-for-the-public/conditions-library/allergies/medications-and-drug-allergic-reactionsWiley: Effects of antidepressant and antipsychotic use on weight gain: A systematic review https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/obr.12934
- NCBI: Interplays between drugs and the gut microbiome https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8991093/
- NCDAS: Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics https://drugabusestatistics.org/prescription-drug-abuse-statistics/