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Prescription: What to do if your drug makes headlines
Get the facts

Quick info on the Web
Quick info on the Web

When a new warning is in the news, you can find out more at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Web site:

  • MedWatch is the FDA’s Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program. The home page lists safety alerts for all FDA-regulated products.
  • This index to drug-specific information lists hundreds of drugs. Click on a specific drug and pull up the latest warnings, press releases and fact sheets about the drug.

Questions to ask your doctor
Questions to ask your doctor

If your medicine makes the news, you’ll need specific information about your drug and your health. Ask your healthcare provider these questions:

  1. Did the news involve my specific drug? You may be taking a similar drug that’s still considered safe.
  2. Did it involve the same dosage? Maybe problems arise only at specific doses.
  3. Is the drug putting me at greater risk for a health condition I’m already at high risk for? If you’re already at high risk for the potential side effect, say osteoporosis, then you and your healthcare provider may decide to end treatments that may worsen it.
  4. Were both men and women tested? Some complications may be gender specific.
  5. Should I take any tests? You may want to have a bone density test or a stress test to learn whether your medications have caused bone loss or heart damage, for example.
  6. What other medication choices do I have? Your doctor may switch you to something else.
  7. Would other medications combat the effects? For example, maybe bone-building drugs can offset anta-cids’ bone-damaging effects.
  8. Would lifestyle strategies help? Diet and exercise may reduce the need for some drugs.

You see the headlines often, warning you about the newfound dangers of a well-known prescription medicine, from antacids that may increase the risk of hip fractures to sleeping pills that may cause “sleep-driving.” So what should you do when a prescription drug you’re taking appears in the news?

Get the facts

Talk with your healthcare provider. Don’t stop taking any drug—even daily aspirin—until you find out from your provider how it may affect you directly.

You and your doctor can discuss any actual risks involved. Sometimes the news sounds serious but may be less dire than it first seems. For instance, one component of the large-scale Women’s Health Initiative study on hormone replacement therapy was stopped in 2002 when it found that heart attack risk increased 29 percent in women who took estrogen and progestin. While that sounds like a lot, in real numbers it’s a difference of just eight women (29 instead of 21) out of 10,000. Breast cancer risk increased 26 percent, also a difference of eight women (38 instead of 30) in 10,000.

Eight in 10,000 sounds a lot less risky than 29 percent. When you think of the numbers this way, you and your provider can decide whether the actual risks outweigh the benefits for you—or vice versa. If you think your treatment is too risky, discuss alternatives such as a different dose, another drug or dietary changes.

Whatever you do, don’t be hasty. Stick to your treatments. But get the information you need from your most trusted source—your doctor.