Everyone knows that medicines can have side effects. But do you know the possible disadvantages of the pills that you use regularly? A Briton aged five over the age of 65 takes at least seven different medications, a report revealed last week. And an amazing 86 percent of this age group takes at least one prescription drug.
Nowadays, in information sheets in boxes with tablets, almost all possible negative effects are mentioned. But studies show that less than half of the patients read them.
It is therefore no surprise that side effects are often not reported – because patients have no idea that symptoms are related to their pills.
They can even affect a part of the body that has absolutely nothing to do with the area the drug is targeted to. So, can your scratchy throat or angry rash be explained by the daily pills in your medicine cabinet?
Here are some of the most common ways that drugs can affect the body – and what you can do to avoid them.
Nowadays, in information sheets in boxes with tablets, almost all possible negative effects are mentioned. But studies show that less than half of the patients read them (stock image)
“FOOTBALL” INJURY BY ANTIBIOTICS
It caused David Beckham to miss the 2010 World Cup and it is an injury that plagues football players.
A torn Achilles tendon occurs when the tendon, at the back of the ankle, suddenly breaks. And for some, this can happen as a result of taking antibiotics.
Drugs known as quinolones and fluoroquinolones are often used to combat urinary tract infections. A fluoroquinolone called ciprofloxacin is one of the most commonly prescribed medications.
Even taking a few days can cause serious side effects in a minority of people – the most unexpected is a sudden break in the Achilles tendon. Joint paint and memory loss are also reported.
The drugs are said to cause a reaction in tendon cells, leading to the production of enzymes that wear the tendon away, causing it to break down prematurely.
“If you suspect a side effect, your doctor may prescribe an alternative antibiotic,” says Professor Mark Fielder, an expert in medical microbiology at Kingston University in Surrey.
“But unless you think your reaction is serious, do not stop taking the medication because your infection may get worse and become harder to treat.”
THE TABLETS HAVE LOVED ME FOR A YEAR
When Becky Hay was diagnosed with high blood pressure in 2017, she was relieved to find a medicine that controlled it, reducing her risk of a life-threatening stroke or heart attack.
But within a few days after she started using ramipril, she developed an irritating, tickling cough.
It became so bad that it destroyed her life for 12 months.
Within days of Becky Hay (photo) starting to take ramipril, she developed an irritating, tickling cough
“Ramipril has slowly brought my blood pressure under control,” says Becky, 46, from Basingstoke, Hampshire.
“But as soon as I started taking it, I started coughing. I also have asthma, so in the first instance I put it down. But I couldn’t even have a conversation without coughing and went everywhere with a bottle of water in my hand to try and control it. “
GPs have prescribed rampiril 27 million times in 2017. It is a type of medicine called an ACE inhibitor, blocking enzymes that trap blood vessels, allowing oxygen-rich blood to flow through blood vessels and into the heart.
But up to one in ten patients gets a itchy, dry cough. Unfortunately, all ACE inhibitors have this effect.
After discovering that coughing was a side effect of taking ramipril, after a year of suffering, Becky had had enough and was eventually switched by her doctor to another drug called candesartan.
She says, “Within a day or so after switching to the new drug, my cough disappeared and my blood pressure was still good.”
Dajani says, “You may, like Becky, have to switch to other drugs.”
ON STATINS? LOOK OUT FOR HAIR LOSS
An estimated eight million Britons take statins to lower their cholesterol and reduce the risk of a heart attack. The drugs have a good safety record, but can cause muscle pain in a minority of patients.
A lesser known problem is hair loss, which is thought to occur in one in 1,000 patients – both men and women.
It is not clear why statins have this effect. One theory is that hair needs a certain amount of cholesterol to grow and stay healthy.
Dr. Paul Silverton, former cardiologist consultant at Leeds General Infirmary, says it may be possible to switch to a different type of statin.
Rosuvastatin, a new statin, is one of the few that does not mention hair loss as a side effect. But Dr. Silverton says, “It’s a lot more expensive, so unless your hair gets into your hands, your doctor might be reluctant to prescribe it.”
‘MENOPAUSALE’ THYROID DRUGS
A drug called levothyroxine is one of the most prescribed drugs, with around 30 million orders a year. It replaces the hormone thyroxine that a healthy thyroid gland would normally produce.
But side effects can almost make some women feel a transition, says Sid Dajani, a public pharmacist in Andover, Hampshire. They include hot flashes, sweating, restlessness, weight loss and muscle cramps.
A possible reason for side effects has to do with the dosage – a little too much can cause hormones to get confused. “Ask your doctor to try a different dose,” says Dajani.
HAPPY PILLS THAT TURN YOU
Prozac, also known as fluoxetine, was launched in the late 1980s and is the most famous antidepressant in the world.
It belongs to a group of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs, and more than 70 million prescriptions were issued for them last year. There is an unusual side effect that can destroy the lives of those taking the medicine – spells from excessive yawning. Some patients have ten to 20 spells per day, lasting up to half an hour, during which they yawn 50 times.
Research suggests that this side effect occurs in approximately one in 50 patients. The drug increases mood by circulating the amount of the feelgood hormone serotonin in the brain – but serotonin also stimulates yawning.
Dr. Cosmo Hallstrom, a psychiatrist and member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, says that most SSRIs are associated with increased yawning, but fluoxetine is the worst. He says: “If the yawning side effect outweighs the benefits, your doctor may reduce the dose or switch to another medicine.”
MUSCLE CRABS CAUSED BY INHALERS
Most of the five million asthma patients in Britain wear a blue inhaler to facilitate breathing and prevent upcoming attacks. The active ingredient is salbutamol and it works by relaxing airway muscles, making it easier to breathe.
But at least one in 100 patients finds that taking just one or two puffs causes painful muscle cramps.
Most of the five million asthma patients in Britain have a blue inhaler (photo) with them to facilitate breathing and prevent upcoming attacks
The drug can cause a temporary drop in potassium levels in the blood. If muscles do not have a constant and even supply of potassium – like other minerals such as sodium and calcium – they cannot contract normally, so go spasm.
“These cramps are usually felt in the legs and feet,” says Dr. Richard Russell of the British Lung Foundation. “But they often only occur in people who take very large doses of salbutamol or similar drugs and the effects usually disappear after about 30 minutes.”
Dr. advice Russell is trying to hold onto the drug because it is very effective to control wheezing. However, if cramps become unbearable, there are alternative drugs called anti-cholinergic agents that have less problematic side effects, such as dry mouth.
Side effects are often not reported – because patients have no idea that symptoms are related to their pills (photo, an image with some typical side effects)
VIAGRA LEAVES YOU WITH A STUFFY NOSE
The anti-impotence drug Viagra, taken every year by three million men, became famous for its unintended side effects on men’s love lives – because it was originally developed to combat high blood pressure.
However, about one in 100 patients finds their libido somewhat muffled by another Viagra side effect: a stuffy nose.
While blood vessels dilate in the groin, stimulating blood flow, the same happens in the thousands of small blood vessels along the nasal cavities.
As they expand, they reduce the volume of the nasal cavity, compress the space through which air can pass, and cause the sensation of a swollen nose.
“All drugs for erectile dysfunction have this side effect,” explains Dr. Geoff Hackett, president of the British Society of Sexual Medicine from. “But Viagra, also known as sildenafil, is the worst because it works fast.”
He adds: “Other drugs, such as Cialis, also called tadalafil, are designed to start slower, so that nasal congestion is less noticeable.”
DRUG DIABETES WRECKING TASTY BUTTONS
One of the first medications that GPs use when diagnosing a patient with type 2 diabetes is metformin, a daily tablet that lowers blood sugar levels by improving the body’s response to insulin.
Twenty million recipes are written in the UK every year – but many patients say that metformin destroys their taste buds and complains about a powerful metallic taste.
Metformin is thought to linger in saliva and to affect taste for many hours after being taken. Dajani says, “Unless it causes major problems, most GPs would not like to take patients.”
Other diabetes medicines may have less impact on taste, including newer prescription drugs such as canagliflozin, dapagliflozin and empagliflozin.
SIDE EFFECTS OF SIDE EFFECTS
Patients who suspect they have had a negative reaction to a drug can report this online to the government’s Yellow Card scheme, which collects data on side effects. Go to yellowcard.mhra.gov.uk.