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Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements and Prescriptions

Prescription Omega-3s and Your Health

Prescription fish oil capsules contain a higher dose of omega-3 fatty acids than non-prescription versions. 

Your doctor will probably only recommended prescription-strength fish oil if your triglycerides are very high (more than 500 mg/dL).

Research suggests very high triglyceride levels are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. However, more research is needed to determine if prescription omega-3s lower the risk of heart disease.

Very high triglycerides are also linked to pancreatitis.

Two types of prescription-strength omega-3 fatty acids are available:

  • Epanova (omega-3-carboxylic acids). This contains a combination of EPA and DHA.
  • Lovaza (omega-3-acid ethyl esters). This contains a combination of EPA and DHA.
  • Vascepa (icosapent ethyl). This contains EPA only.

 

Side Effects of Non-Prescription Omega-3s

The FDA doesn't regulate supplements as closely as prescriptions. So the amount of omega-3s listed on the label may be higher than what you actually get. In addition, supplements may not be pure omega-3s and may contain other ingredients or contaminants.   

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements come in many different doses and types. Each supplement can contain different ingredients, depending on the manufacturer's standards.

Non-prescription omega-3 fatty acid supplements may cause mild side effects, such as:

  • Fishy burps or taste in the mouth
  • Upset stomach

Talk to your doctor before taking omega-3 supplements if you:

  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Take blood-thinning medicines
  • Have an allergy to fish or shellfish

Also, ask your doctor if you really need to take an omega-3 supplement. In most cases, all you need are a few adjustments to your diet. If your doctor does recommend a supplement, ask what type and dose you should use. Be sure to talk about your health history and other medicines you're taking.

Side Effects of Prescription Omega-3s

Common side effects of prescription omega-3s vary according to the type of prescription. 

Side effects of Epanova include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain

Side effects of Lovaza include:

  • Burping
  • Unpleasant taste in mouth
  • Upset stomach

A common side effect of Vascepa is joint pain.

Prescription omega-3 fatty acids or high doses of omega-3 supplements may also affect the blood's ability to clot. People who take blood-thinning medications should be aware of this precaution if they also take omega-3s. Talk to your doctor if you take blood thinning medicines, such as Coumadin (warfarin) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen.

Omega-3 fatty acids lower high triglyceride levels, but brands that contain DHA may raise levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol. This could be a problem if you also have high cholesterol, which often goes hand-in-hand with high triglycerides.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on March 11, 2013

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