side effects may include…

How to read a medication's potentially terrifying list of side-effects and keep your sanity.

dangerous pill

If you ever watched TV for more than oh… ten minutes at a time, you’ve seen one of the ubiquitous drug ads of today. You know, the ones with happy smiley people who tackle the great outdoors, go to parties and generally have a great time while a list of side effects ranging from the sniffles to sleep eating and sleep business deal-making is rattled off by a lawyer with a voice better suited for a court proceeding than a commercial.

Particularly disturbing are the declared side effects for antidepressants. They include suicidal thoughts, intentional injury and suicide. Yeah, great. That’ll help your depression. There some science to the idea. After all, antidepressants are a family of drugs known as SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Serotonin helps regulate moods and by manipulating how it’s exchanged between neurons can change how you feel. But can an antidepressant be suicide in pill form?

Let’s go back to how the lists of side effects are drawn up. Before a drug can earn FDA approval and be prescribed by a doctor, the pharmaceutical company has to run massive clinical trials. Anything that happens to the patients during these trials is recorded as possible side effects of the drug. Someone who has nausea during the trial might be nauseous because his or her liver can’t process the drug fast enough. Another cause could be an unrelated medical problem or the tuna and peanut butter sandwich ingested that morning. But the nausea goes on that list in any case because it happened as the patient was taking the drug.

When working with depressive patients, suicidal thoughts and self-inflicted injury are a part of the condition. They’re also notoriously difficult to treat. Noncompliance is a rampant problem with mental health patients and it’s even more difficult to determine if they’re feeling the urge to harm themselves or commit suicide is caused by a pill or by their condition. However, as per the rules of the trial, any incident of suicidal thoughts, behaviors or unfortunate executions of those ideas is recoded as a potential side effect of the antidepressants.

Now, if a side effect has been recorded, you should definitely be cautious and aware of what the medication you’re taking could do to your body. Always talk to your doctor about what you’re about to take and if you should be aware of any potential issues. But next time you’re watching TV and another drug ad assaults you with menacing potential side effect lists, keep in mind that some of the more extreme ones might have less to do with the drug and more to do with the official procedures that tabulate those side effects.

# health // fda / medicine / pills / side effects


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