Are the side effects of your medications worth the risk?

Are the side effects of your medications worth the risk?
A hand holding a bottle of over-the-counter medicine

A hand holding a bottle of over-the-counter medicine

I was recently trying on a pair of reading glasses at a local pharmacy. A fellow ambled around the corner, glanced at me, handed me a bottle of pills, and asked, “Can you see the fine print with those things?”

“Pretty well,” I answered.

“Well, do you mind telling me what this label says is in this?” He handed me a bottle of Midol tablets. Just barely able to make out the miniscule engraving on the box, I told him what the label said. I asked if his wife had forgotten to specify which product she wanted. 

“No, it’s not for her, it’s for me. I had a bad headache a few weeks ago and I took some of her pills, and it got rid of my headache. Since it worked, I wanted to get some more.”

I didn’t want to offer professional advice to someone outside the office, but I did tell him that the Midol contained ibuprofen, which is also in Motrin, Advil, and many other brands advertised for headache. He looked at me for a moment, thanked me, and walked away - with the Midol!

Many competing medications contain the same active ingredients, but some medications containing the same active ingredients are marketed for very different reasons. For example, Benadryl markets diphenhydramine HCl for allergy symptoms. Sominex has the same ingredient, yet is marketed as a sleep aid. Diphenhydramine HCl is also added to acetaminophen to make Tylenol PM and other products.

The danger of not reading your medication labels

Unfortunately, many people fail to read the labels at all. I don’t think the manufacturers really want us to, which is why the information is written in such small print. That leads to problems.

The FDA recently warned that people mistakenly take acetaminophen excessively when they combine multiple cold remedies that all contain that ingredient. This can result in kidney damage, liver failure and death. Damage to organs can even occur when the drugs are taken exactly as directed.

Alternatives to medicine

One of the goals of our clinic is to help patients find ways to eliminate or reduce dependency upon drugs. Every drug has side effects. Every drug has risks of adverse effects. Pills as seemingly innocuous as aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen result in numerous deaths every year.

This doesn’t mean that you should never again take another pill. Everything in life is a balance between desired outcome and possible risks. I understand that sometimes, you just want some relief and are willing to take some risks to obtain that relief.

Ideally, though, you may want to find ways to improve your health so you don’t have to take drugs. This may be easier to accomplish than you realize.

In our clinic, I have found many people are able to reduce their use of over-the-counter medications fairly quickly in many instances, especially pain medications. It is important to note that many prescriptions, and some over-the-counter medications, should not be abruptly discontinued without working with your doctor.

I encourage you to look for alternatives to taking drugs whenever possible. When you do find it necessary to take drugs, please be sure to read the labels and make informed decisions.

About this Experts Contributor: Dr. Mark Kestner has been serving the healthcare needs of residents of Middle Tennessee for more than 25 years. Providing a wide range of conservative treatment options such as chiropractic, acupuncture, spinal disc decompression, rehab training and therapies, he works with patients to learn how to eliminate pain without drugs and the risk of side effects.You can learn more by following him on Twitter @DrMarkKestner or visiting his website.

As of July 30, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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