For most people in the United States some type of medication is a part of their daily life. Whether it’s a birth control pill or an anti-inflammatory for a sore knee we trust that the medications we obtain over the counter or via a doctor’s prescription be safe and effective and in most cases that’s true.
The United States has a very good medication vetting system in the form of the FDA and we can usually be certain that the medication we take is the right one for our particular needs and has been carefully considered by our physicians and pharmacists. However, mistakes happen and some of these mistakes can have severe and lasting consequences, particularly in the case of prescription medication.
If you take a medication prescribed by your doctor how much thought have you put into it? Are you fully aware of its side effects? Do you know if there is another medication that should never be combined with the one you’re taking? We place a great deal of trust in the professionals who administer our medication but in some cases that trust ceases to exist. If you’re taking any medication for any reason these are just a few of the things you should know before it’s time to take your next dose.
No medication is completely without the risk of side effects no matter how small. For most people and in the case of most medications the side effects are mild or barely noticeable. Some antibiotics can cause nausea if not taken with food and too much ibuprofen can contribute to bleeding in the stomach.
However, your doctor should take the time to discuss all the side effects with you and give you instructions regarding what you should do if you experience anything severe. For instance, the popular drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease, Mirapex, has some interesting yet potentially harmful side effects such as heart failure and an interesting link to loss of impulse control. If your physician hasn’t taken the time to explain this you might not be able to make the connection between sudden, strange feelings and the medication.
Pharmacists are considered to be a doctor’s wingman so to speak. He or she has a record of what medication you take and might notice something the doctor didn’t, then intervene. This is one reason why it’s important to use the same pharmacy for all of your medications if possible so a complete record of your medication history is readily available.
Off Label Prescribing
One thing doctors sometimes do that patients are rarely aware of is the practice of off label prescribing. Simply put, this means that a drug intended for one purpose is prescribed for something else. The FDA neither forbids nor endorses this practice; they are only allowed to regulate what a doctor prescribes, not how the doctor prescribes it.
For instance, a medicine called nadolol is intended to treat symptoms of high blood pressure but is often prescribed to migraine sufferers who have no history of high blood pressure.
Many experts estimate that at least one if five of every prescription written in the United States is done so off label, and your doctor is not required to tell you that. Informed consent is vital to the doctor/patient relationship and without the knowledge that you’re taking a medication that is not necessarily intended for your condition can in some ways be construed as a violation of the trust you place in your doctor.
In addition, the fact that you might not be fully aware of the side effects of this drug could mean that you ignore those side effects and put yourself at risk.
What Can I Do?
One great way to stay informed about your healthcare is to talk with your doctor, all the time and about everything. Do the same with you pharmacist. When you’re prescribed a new medication be vocal. What is this drug intended to do? What side effects should I be aware of? Are you prescribing this off label? If your doctor truly wants you to be an active participant in your health care they will happily answer your questions.
On the other hand, if you feel that you’ve experienced negative side effects and weren’t fully informed about the risks of a medication then it might be time to take your case from the doctor’s office to that of an experienced medical malpractice attorney.
Your healthcare is important and the trust you place in the people in charge of that are important too. Keeping yourself informed about your medical conditions and the medications used to treat them is the best way to ensure your treatment protocol is the right one for you.