A Healthy Dose of Reality

Blank pillsSometimes when it comes to drugs, medical procedures, and other healthcare choices – the media doesn’t always give the whole picture.

One major drug company is trying to get a new pain medicine (a Cox-2 inhibitor), approved through the Food and Drug Administration. The drug relieves pain while decreasing the risk of stomach ulcers and bleeding – a common problem with aspirin and other pain medicines.

The company hopes this new drug will replace a medicine they were forced to take off the market two years ago because it gave some people an increased risk of heart attacks. While the company’s tests show that the new medicine causes no more side effects than other similar painkillers, critics claim that the side effects are the same as the old drug that was withdrawn – people with high risk of heart disease are at increased risk for a heart attack when taking the new medicine.

Message: The new medicine still has side effects and risks for certain classes of patients.

Another drug, intended to decrease flu symptoms has caused 250 cases of delirium, hallucinations and other “abnormal behavior” out of 31 million patients who have taken the drug since 1999.

Message: This drug also may cause side effects and has some risk in certain patient groups.

A major physician group withdrew from participation in a reality TV show because “the program gave an incomplete picture of what patients went through. (These programs) don’t show you all the steps.They don’t show you the complications.”

Message: All medical and surgical procedures have side effects and risks.

In our society of instant messaging and fast food, on-demand Tivo and reach-you-anywhere cell phones, it can seem shocking that medical procedures and medications still have side effects and risks. But there is no such thing as the perfect man-made anything. Life is risky. In fact, it is a tribute to the diligence of technology that risks don’t happen more often than they do.

But be aware. There is no magic pill. There is no fail-safe procedure. There is no activity that comes without risks. And the more technical and physically-involved it gets, the riskier it is. Life is risky.

All medicines have side effects – including all herbal supplements. All medical procedures have inherent risks. Don’t be surprised, just ask what can be done to decrease your risks.

  1. Follow a prudent lifestyle – exercise daily, eat a healthy diet, drink eight glasses of water daily, get sufficient sleep, avoid harmful life choices (smoking, alcohol and drug abuse), wear your seatbelt, etc
  2. Ask your health care provider what the common risks are for any procedure or medication– always be informed.
  3. Follow instructions – taking medications, preparing for a procedure, etc.
  4. Check out your health care providers – make sure they are fully qualified.
  5. Ask what you can do to decrease your risks – of disease, of complications – and then do it!

Don’t be naive abut the potential for risks. Don’t assume someone else is looking out for you. Be informed about your medical conditions. Stay directly, personally involved in your medical care.