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Dealing With Medicine Side Effects and Interactions

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Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects continue to bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.
  • Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you take a medicine and you:
    • Have trouble breathing.
    • Get hives camera.gif.
    • Have swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
    • Faint (lose consciousness) or feel like you may faint.
    These are signs of a severe allergic reaction to the medicine.

Will you get side effects?

Anyone can feel side effects from a medicine, but there is no way to know for sure if a medicine will cause side effects for you. It may depend on how much of the medicine you take, how old you are, how much you weigh, whether you are male or female, and what other health problems you may have. Older adults are more likely to have side effects than younger adults.

You may notice side effects when you start to take a medicine, change the dose, or stop using the medicine. A medicine you've often taken without getting side effects may suddenly cause side effects. Or side effects may stop.

What can you do to prevent side effects?

There are many things you can do to prevent and prepare for side effects. Before you take any medicine, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about:

  • The possible side effects of the medicine and those you may be likely to have.
  • How soon they may start.
  • Whether they may go away on their own.
  • Whether you can do anything to prevent them. For example, taking a medicine with food or at a certain time of day may help with this.
  • Whether you need any tests to check for them.
  • What you can do to manage mild side effects.
  • When and who you should call for help with side effects.
  • Whether you can drink alcohol when you are taking the medicine.

What can you do for mild side effects?

In general, you can ask your doctor if you can take less of the medicine or try another one.

Here are some tips to help you manage some common side effects from medicines.

Side effect

What to know or do

Constipation
  • Eat bran and other whole-grain cereals and high-fiber fruits and vegetables, such as apples, prunes, beans, and broccoli.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Get exercise.
Daytime drowsiness
  • This problem may go away as your body gets used to the medicine.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take your medicine at bedtime.
  • Do not drive or operate heavy equipment when you feel drowsy.
Diarrhea
  • Eat mild, low-fiber foods, such as applesauce, rice, and yogurt.
  • Avoid spicy and high-fat foods until you feel better.
Dizziness
  • Get up slowly from sitting or lying down.
Dry mouth
  • Chew sugarless gum, or suck on sugarless candy.
  • Take frequent sips of water throughout the day.
Headaches
  • These may go away as your body gets used to the medicine.
  • Ask your doctor what medicine you can take for a headache.
Loss of appetite
  • Try to eat more often. Have healthy snacks between meals.
  • Include favorite foods at each meal.
  • Take a walk before you eat. This may make you hungrier.
Upset stomach (nausea)
  • Ask your doctor if you can take the medicine with food.
  • Eat several smaller meals a day rather than two or three large meals.
  • Try peppermint candy or gum. Peppermint can help settle your stomach.
  • Eat bland foods, such as dry crackers or plain bread. Avoid fried, greasy, sweet, and spicy foods.
Feeling nervous or on edge
  • This problem may go away as your body gets used to the medicine.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take a lower dose.
Sexual problems
  • Ask your doctor if you can take a lower dose.
  • Ask your doctor if there is another medicine you can try.
Sleep problems
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.
  • Don't exercise in the late afternoon or evening.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool. And use a sleep mask and earplugs.
Sensitive to the sun
  • Stay out of the sun, if possible.
  • Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and hats, if possible.
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF that your doctor recommends.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 24, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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