Prescription drugs heal us when we're sick, ease our pain when we ache, and prevent or control long-term conditions. But sometimes, even when they do the job they're supposed to, they have unwelcome side effects.
Don't let that make you automatically rule out a medication, especially if it's an important part of managing a health condition. But you shouldn't accept unpleasant reactions without question, either.
Know What to Expect
Side effects can happen with almost any medicine, says Jim Owen, doctor of pharmacy and vice president of practice and science affairs at the American Pharmacists Association. They're common with everything from birth control pills to cancer-fighting chemotherapy drugs.
Many prescription drugs, for example, cause stomach problems like nausea, diarrhea, or constipation because they pass through your digestive system.
Others -- like antidepressants, muscle relaxants, or blood pressure or diabetes meds -- may cause dizziness. Some might make you feel drowsy, depressed, or irritable. Some may cause weight gain. Some may disrupt your sleep or your ability (or desire) for sex.
"I tell my patients that chronic symptoms are not acceptable," says Lisa Liu, MD, a family doctor at Gottleib Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, IL. "I won't allow them to have ongoing pain or discomfort unless we have tried every alternative."
Ask for Help
When your doctor prescribes a new medicine, ask about common side effects.
"You, your doctor, and your pharmacist should be working together so everyone has the same information," Owen says. "You should know which side effects are serious, which ones will go away on their own, and which ones can be prevented."
Once you start taking a drug, mention any unexpected symptoms to your doctor or pharmacist as soon as possible. This includes changes in your sex life, Liu says, which many patients are embarrassed or afraid to talk about.
Some side effects go away over time as your body gets used to a new drug, so your doctor may recommend you stick with your current plan for a little longer. In other cases, you may be able to lower your dose, try a different drug, or add another one, like an anti-nausea medicine, to your routine.