drug side effects may range from
mild symptoms like headache or nausea to more serious risks such as
seizures or temporary blindness. New research suggests that the side
effects listed on the label often represent just a small portion of
what users are really experiencing.
While these studies are generally very thorough and are the most reliable way to prove that a medication is safe and effective, clinical trials could not possibly foresee all of the potential effects the drug could have on individuals with different underlying conditions and medical histories.
Many times, the most serious side
effects are not acknowledged until after the medicine has been on
the market for quite some time.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to determine if the symptoms are a direct result of the medication or if other factors are also to blame. All of these reactions and side effects are added to more than 4 million similar reports in the FDA Adverse Event Reporting System database.
Until recently, no one had devised a
logical method to analyze and filter the data.
Using a computer generated algorithm, graduate student Nicholas Tatonetti and Stanford professor Russ Altman, MD, PhD sorted the millions of reported side effect cases within the database to group together patients with similar lifestyles, medical histories, and/or prescriptions.
This process makes it easy to determine
the cause of the side effect or reaction, and is also a great way to
learn more about adverse drug interactions that may not yet be
The first, OFFSIDES, discovered an
additional 329 side effects on average for each of the 1,332 drugs
that were studied – nearly 5 times the 70 or so potential reactions
that are listed on the average drug insert.
An additional 1,301 contraindications
were discovered. One of the most important findings is a previously
unknown risk of fatal cardiac conditions in patients taking SSRI
class antidepressants at the same time as a commonly prescribed
blood pressure medication.
It may take several years before many of
the newly discovered side effects and interactions are mandatorily
included in the medication packaging, but doctors and their patients
can use the knowledge to determine the most effective prescription
combinations for the specified conditions.