From a reader:
"I am so tired of taking medications that seem to cause more problems than my diagnosed disease."This is one of the trickiest problems in doctoring: all medicines have side effects. Doctors treat diseases, but we unintentionally cause a lot of suffering with our treatments.
Some medicines cause frequent side effects. Some medicines cause them only occasionally. Some patients very rarely get side effects. Some people seem to get a side effect from everything they take. Any one person's reaction to any one medicine is impossible to predict. It gets pretty complicated.
It's important to understand that having a side effect doesn't mean it was a "bad medicine." It may work great for lots of other people. You should also realize that a bad side effect doesn't necessarily mean you had an incompetent doctor. Doctor D can't count how many patients have told him, "I'm never going back to Dr. SoAndSo, because he gave me a prescription for a poison. It made me feel terrible." (Patients have probably said this about Doctor D too.) The doctor who diagnosed you and gave the medicine is often in the best position to help you approach the problem of side effects.
In the end, only you can decide if it is worth taking any particular medicine, but your doctor can help you understand the pros and cons of any medicine or treatment.
A few common situations involving medicines:
- Dangerous Disease, Few Symptoms: Some diseases like Hypertension cause almost no symptoms until it is too late. Lots of people stop blood pressure medicine for mild side effects just because they just cannot feel the pressure destroying their arteries. Low-symptom diseases like Hypertension, Type II Diabetes, and High Cholesterol kill millions even though we have lots of great medicines. People have a hard time taking medicine when they don't feel sick. If you have medicine side effects with one of the "silent killers" you really need to talk to your doctor about switching medicines. Going without any treatment is a bad idea.
- Benign Disease, Miserable Symptoms: A lot of conditions from the Common Cold to Fibromyalgia never kill anyone, but they can make you feel horrible. The symptoms are the disease and therefore if you can handle the disease better than the medicine the choice is obvious. Just be sure your doctor agrees you have a benign condition before making this decision.
- Bad Disease, Bad Medicine: This is always a difficult place to be. A horrible disease that is treated with medicines that make most people miserable. Many cancers fall into this category. Your doctor can help you understand the probable risks of the disease as well as the expected side effects of the medicine, but remember the decision is yours.
- Mixed Diseases: Some diseases cause some difficult symptoms now and often vary in the amount of long-term damage they cause. Rheumatoid Arthritis is an example of such a condition. Treatments are aimed at current symptoms, at long-term damage, or both. Decisions about medicines in such conditions are never as clear cut as the other diseases. If you have trouble tolerating a medicine, you should ask your doctor if stopping it would have any long-term ramifications.
All these decisions belong to you, but doctors are useful for educating you. If a medicine makes you miserable ask you doctor, ""I'd love to stop this med because of side effects, what might I risk by doing this? Are there other medicines that I could try?"
Have you ever quit a treatment that was working because of side effects? Was your doctor helpful in your decision-making process? Doctor D would love to hear your stories.