How much do you know about prescription drugs? Chances are, you haven’t thought too much about them. While many people may have chronic or long-term illnesses that call for the use of prescription drugs, most of us don’t consider the fact that the medications we are taking can sometimes be harmful to our health. This is not to say that all medication is harmful; in moderation, many medications improve the quality and duration of life. However, some carry with them certain risks. These risks may compound when taking a prescribed medication for months or years.
Often, prescription drugs work to treat a person’s symptoms, rather than the underlying diseases that cause them. This can cause problems, in part because sometimes dealing with one symptom creates harmful side effects while not combating the true source of the symptoms. Sometimes there is no actual cure for a given ailment, but treating the symptoms should not be done in a vacuum; other treatments or procedures should be used to reduce any risk brought on by medication. As it stands, sometimes a medication’s side effects outnumber the issue it’s supposed to solve.
One side effect that’s not mentioned often, if at all, is an addiction. Painkillers, antidepressants, and sleep aids are often addictive, and people end up becoming dependent upon them, which can harm their health in the long run. To be clear, depression and other mental illnesses are serious and in such cases, sometimes medication is the best or only option. However, dependency among those who do not need medication can be problematic. Reliance upon prescription medication can often result in an overlooking of more permanent, less harmful solutions, particularly those that are related to diet or other aspects of one’s lifestyle.
As mentioned earlier, sometimes the side effects of a medication are as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than the condition they treat; it’s concerning that the things that are supposed to make us better have significant chances to kill us. To be fair, some of the danger lies in the misuse and overuse of medications, but shouldn’t our medications be safer in the first place? There are many commonly used prescription drugs with adverse effects. Be mindful of these, and the fact that any drug may end up having unintended side effects, as each person is different.
Proton Pump Inhibitors
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which are commonly used in the treatment of GERD (acid reflux), have been associated with significant side effects; some of these are matters of relative inconveniences, such as constipation, while others are more serious, such as stomach cancer or kidney disease. However, the organs of the digestive system are not the only parts of the body put at risk by the use of prescription heartburn medications. According to WebMD, there is research indicating that PPIs may increase a person’s risk for dementia and heart attacks as well as vitamin deficiencies, which can lead to fragile bones.
When you compare such serious illnesses to heartburn, suddenly medication doesn’t seem like such a great idea. That being said, you don’t have to choose between potentially dangerous medication and just living with heartburn. In many cases, lifestyle changes can help soothe or eliminate heartburn. What and when you eat, for example, will determine the severity of heartburn. Changes in your diet will also help you lose weight, and weight loss is another factor that can help alleviate heartburn. Ultimately, if you have heartburn, you should talk to your doctor about lifestyle modifications alongside or instead of medication if possible.
Many autoimmune diseases are treated with the steroid prednisone; some of these are arthritis, lupus, and ulcerative colitis. Essentially, you can think of it as a drug used to handle inflammation, which is a response of the body, rather than an illness on its own. Autoimmune diseases are those where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body, and treatments like prednisone suppress the immune system to limit these attacks. One of the unfortunate side effects of this is that legitimate threats to the body’s health are more likely to take hold, as the immune system response is weakened.
However, even setting aside the possibility of infections, prednisone can lead to complications. For example, water retention, weight gain, and high blood pressure are common. The latter two compound dangerously and could lead to heart disease. It is dangerous for pregnant and nursing women as well. Patients may also experience muscle problems or glaucoma. The risk is especially relevant in the case of high doses over long periods, so if you must take prednisone, take as small a dose as possible for as short a time as possible. Furthermore, stress, anxiety, digestive issues, and mental illness can cause this medication to have negative effects.
Those who have difficulty managing their cholesterol may be prescribed statins to help keep levels under control. Statins are one of the most commonly prescribed medications for adults, especially for those over 40 years of age. This is unfortunate when you consider the short and long-term ramifications of statin use. While headaches, nausea, and gas may not seem like such a big deal at first, other effects include insomnia, rash, and diarrhea—and these are still the very mild symptoms. The more serious risks include vitamin deficiencies and a significantly increased risk of cancer and diabetes.
If you’d like to avoid using statins, improving your understanding of cholesterol can be a great help. For starters, there are two main types of cholesterol, and only one of them is bad for you. LDL cholesterol causes harm by clogging arteries, raising blood pressure, and increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke. On the other hand, HDL cholesterol is good. It helps keep the body free of the bad stuff. Including healthy fats for HDL cholesterol, while avoiding excess levels of unhealthy fats (like those from fried foods), will keep LDL levels manageable. Regular exercise also helps.
Antidepressants are more complicated than the other items on this list; in many cases, they are the most effective treatment for depression. For that reason, it’s not advisable to completely stop taking antidepressants; changes in dosage should always be discussed with your doctor. However, they are not without their side effects, which can include weight gain, a decreased libido, insomnia, and in some cases, especially younger patients, thoughts/risk of suicide (ironically enough, these last two symptoms are also caused by depression itself).
In general, it’s important for sufferers of depression to have a strong support group; people who are involved in their lives and concerned for their well-being, constantly engaging them (without overwhelming them). Therapy is also important, in place of or alongside medication. In cases of mild depression, exercise may also help. Keeping track of depression and symptoms is critical to ensure one gets the help they need. For the family and friends of those dealing with depression, it’s important to pay attention to warning signs and take appropriate measures. One option to consider is the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available any time at 1-800-273-8255.Related: 11 Circumstances in Which Aspirin Could Be Dangerous
Opioids have the most potential for harm of the medications on this list. They are among the most addictive drugs, prescription or otherwise, in the world. More often than not, they come in the form of painkillers, and these are abused by those who suffer from chronic pain. While they are effective when used for short-term pain, opioids should not be used for the treatment of chronic pain. Developing an addiction is incredibly easy, as is the building of tolerance, which means one will need higher and higher doses for the same effect. With opioid overuse comes serious side effects.
Dependency aside, some dangers of opioid abuse are liver and brain damage, and digestive issues like vomiting and constipation. It is easy to say “stay away from opioids,” but for those who live with chronic pain, this may not seem like a realistic option. What’s important is to find other ways to manage the pain, preferably those that are undertaken with the health of the entire body in mind. In general, a healthy diet and exercise help with this, and may resolve or at least alleviate the factors behind chronic pain. Talk to your doctor about other, more natural options.
While ideally, you’ll want to stay away from as many prescriptions as possible, medications are not inherently bad. Sometimes they are the best option. Even if you are seeking to avoid them, talk to your doctor and be sure that you understand all of your options. Additionally, do not be afraid to consider alternative treatments, provided they are vetted and proven to be successful in the treatment of your ailments. For example, yoga can be effective in the treatment of some issues, such as chronic pain and high blood pressure, while exercise may help with depression.Related: 10 Pain Medication Secrets Your Doctor May Not Tell You
Medications do have their place in treating ailments and illness, but it is well worth it to understand the causes behind your ailments, rather than just masking the symptoms. Curing the condition will cure the symptoms as well, and even treating the condition itself will go a long way toward overall health. Speaking of overall health, regular exercise, getting plenty of water and rest, and eating a healthy diet will keep the whole body healthier overall; a healthy weight, for example, reduces the severity of many health conditions and reduces the incidence of other complications altogether.