Like most folks, you probably get a good chuckle when the late-night commercials for prescription drugs come on, especially at the long list of side effects they always seem to have. Some of these drugs can trigger a totally different illness in the body. But aren’t we supposed to pop our pills and expect to get better?
Yes, growing up, we were taught to trust the doctor as they knew what to do. But recent analysis shows that pharmaceutical companies spend up to six times more to market to doctors than to the end user.
Why would drug companies push their products so aggressively?
It turns out some of them are trying to drive sales even before FDA testing is completed. Drug companies have also been caught downplaying the side effects of their drugs, so that they can quickly get it on the market. One well-known manufacturer has had to pay out over $600 million in compensation to its victims. In the 1980s, the company sold a blood product that was infected with HIV to thousands of people in the US and abroad.
Sometimes, it feels like Tylenol is the easiest thing to reach for when the stress of the day gets a bit too much. But users must be careful as the active ingredient found in the product, acetaminophen, has a cumulative adverse effect on the liver. That’s one of the reasons paracetamol is implicated in many suicides. One report found that while 90% of deaths attributed to this drug are from overdoses, 10% occur with the correct dosage.
Here are twelve more common medications with really scary side effects.
10. Achilles Tendon Rupture – Levofloxacin
Levofloxacin is used to treat infections including respiratory tract infections, cellulitis, urinary tract infections, anthrax, meningitis and tuberculosis. Though generally well-tolerated, drugs in this class produce serious adverse reactions.
The milder reactions include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation. Anaphylaxis, seizures and blood glucose disturbances were reported among patients. In more severe cases, the Achilles tendon can rupture up to six months after cessation of using the drug.
In the US, it has been implicated in the increase of symptoms of the neurological disease myasthenia gravis.
9. Uncontrollable Bowel Movements – Orlistat
With obesity figures rising steadily, more people are looking for easier ways to lose weight. The use of fat burning pills are quite common, despite their dangerous effects. One of the few that doesn’t “cook users from the inside” is orlistat.
Similar to Xenical, but with a smaller dosage, orlistat works by inhibiting the body’s ability to absorb fat. This means that any fat consumed in meals is passed out with stool. To minimize the effects of this, doctors recommend the patient start a low-fat diet. Failure to do so leads to passing loose oily stools, fecal incontinence and frequent bowel movements that may be hard to control.
8. Seizures and Hyperglycemia – Olanzapine
Used to treat schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, Tourette syndrome, and bipolar disorder, olanzapine is regarded as one of Eli Lilly’s most profitable drugs. In 2008 alone it made $2.2B in the US, and $4.7B worldwide.
The drug has reportedly caused seizures, weight gain and high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) in diabetic users. Rarer symptoms include alopecia, a sharp fatal drop in white blood cell count, jaundice, even sudden cardiac death.
Though prescribed to treat mental illness, olanzapine can also trigger unusual changes in user personality and behavior. Hallucinations and an increased preoccupation with suicidal thoughts have been linked to olanzapine use.
7. Suicidal Tendencies – Paroxetine
A powerful antidepressant used to treat depression, OCD, anxiety disorders and PTSD, paroxetine was cleared to be used to treat the symptoms associated with menopause in 2013. Some of its side effects include tremors, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, tingling of the skin; unfortunately, that’s just the beginning.
Though it is sold as an antidepressant, analysis by the FDA shows that it increases the risk of suicidal tendencies in users. Like many psychoactive drugs, it is also notoriously difficult to quit cold turkey, as it led to bad dreams and dizziness. The manufacturer initially suppressed the research findings showing the extent to which the abrupt cessation affected users.
6. Type 2 Diabetes – Atorvastatin
Atorvastatin, marketed under the name Lipitor, is used to lower bad cholesterol levels while increasing levels of good cholesterol. By 2011, it was named the best-selling drug ever and credited with saving the lives of heart disease patients across the globe.
Despite this, Lipitor has its fair share of side effects, and a few particularly troubling ones. Like all statins, Lipitor has the tendency to cause type 2 diabetes. Muscle weakness, indigestion and diarrhea are also some of the effects reported by up to 9% of users.
It has also been implicated in potential memory loss, as in the case of former astronaut, Duane Graveline. Some scientists ascribe this to the age of the users; others speculate that as the drug removes cholesterol from the arteries, it has a detrimental knock-on effect on memory and cognition.
5. Behavioral Changes – Pramipexole
Some drugs trigger more than physical side effects. Pramipexole causes massive behavioral change in users. The drug is used to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and also prescribed for people with Restless Leg Syndrome. It works by increasing the level of dopamine produced in the body. Short term memory loss, double vision, hallucinations, twitching, twisting, or other unusual body movements are some of the common side effects.
However, users have reported noticing changes in their normal behavior. Occasional drinkers found themselves drinking heavily. Others became shopaholics and hyper-sexual. In 2008, one user who claimed that the drug caused a gambling addiction, won an $8.2 million lawsuit against Pfizer.
4. Stroke – Canagliflozin
Canagliflozin was developed for the treatment of type 2 diabetes; it works by decreasing the amount of sugar the body absorbs, thus allowing more sugar to be passed out in urine. While this leads to increased urination, hives and genital discharge, there are more serious side effects.
Canagliflozin has been linked to an increase in the risk of diabetic ketoacidos. Another review found that there was an increased risk of stroke in people treated with canagliflozin. An FDA committee also expressed concerns about its link to increased cardiovascular death, non-fatal myocardial infarction and angina.
3. Vivid Nightmares – Varenicline
Sold as Champix in Canada, this drug is used to treat nicotine addiction. It works by stimulating nicotine receptors so that the craving for nicotine is reduced. One review found that it increased the likelihood of successfully quitting up to three times more than other drugs.
Common side effects observed during its recommended 12 week use include nausea, vomiting and constipation. One of the scarier side effects is the yo-yoing between falling asleep and having vivid nightmares. These side effects are reportedly more pronounced if alcohol is consumed with the drug. This combination was linked to the 2007 death of Carter Albrecht. Varenicline has also been linked to worsening psychiatric symptoms in people with depression.
2. Reduced Sex Drive – Duloxetine
Duloxetine is recommended for the management of major depressive disorders, anxiety disorder, nerve pain and fibromyalgia. By increasing dopamine transport to the pre-frontal cortex, this medication helps restore the balance of certain natural substances in the brain.
20% of users report insomnia, dry mouth, dizziness and nausea as the main side effects. Diminished response to sexual stimuli, difficulty getting aroused, difficulty urinating, and a general lack of interest in sex have also been reported among up to 30% of users.
Like many other antidepressants, Duloxetine can increase the risk of suicide among users. Abrupt cessation of this drug isn’t encouraged as it lead to irritability, agitation, insomnia and sensory disturbances.
1. Birth Defects – Isotretinoin
Nobody likes acne; whether it’s tiny pimples, blackheads or bigger spots, we all want to get rid of them ASAP. Little wonder the acne industry is a large chunk of the beauty and skin care industry. Isotretinoin, better known as Accutane, is often prescribed for the treatment of severe cystic acne. In rare cases, it has been used to prevent some skin cancers, but isotretinoin has serious side effects.
Regular symptoms are conjunctivitis, anemia, dry skin, reduced platelets and muscle pain. But isotretinoin is a teratogen and is likely to cause birth defects if taken during pregnancy. The likelihood is so high that in the USA, the iPLEDGE program was developed in 2005. It’s a mandatory distribution program for anyone who wants to use this drug. Patients on isotretinoin are even banned from donating blood for at least one month after using it.