A friend of mine, with heart problems, had gone through open heart surgery seven years ago. She recently mentioned to me that she was having difficulty breathing. Her cardiologist advised her of a new drug that was now available, that was helping lots of people who were experiencing similar breathing problems. She became very interested in this new hope for relieving her symptoms but was concerned about possible side effects. As she had done on previous occasions she asked me to check out online, the possible side effects…which I did. What I found out was that one of side effects could actually produce the very symptom that she wanted to avoid. I told her about my findings and she still decided to take the risk and go ahead with the drug. She made her decision after weighing the benefits against the risks.
Why am I telling you this?
Well, a few days ago I went to my dentist to have a tooth extracted. He told me that I needed to take an antibiotic in order to prevent a possible infection. This was to be done for seven days, beginning the day before the extraction. Of course, he asked me if I was allergic to any antibiotics and I told him that I was not. Anyway, I bought 7 days worth of the medicine and had already taken 3 of the prescribed 14 tablets when, while walking, I felt a sharp pain behind my right knee, accompanied by the sensation of a tight tendon pull, in back of the knee. It was something that one would expect following excessive exercise. It was a strange and uncomfortable feeling. The next day I went out to do my usual walking exercise and noticed that the pain and pulling had gotten worse. I thought that stretching out the tendon would be a good way to “loosen” things up. To my surprise, not only did that not help, but I felt a second pull, accompanied by pain, on the back of my other leg, above the heel. I had to slow down and even completely stop in my tracks, because of the pain and pulling of what I assumed were 2 tendons. “What´s going on here”?, Then the thought came to me…”maybe it would be wise to check out the side effects of the drug I was taking”. So, I went online and checked it out…and here´s what part of the “warning” read:
Taking levofloxacin increases the risk that you will develop tendinitis (swelling of a fibrous tissue that connects a bone to a muscle) or have a tendon rupture (tearing of a fibrous tissue that connects a bone to a muscle) during your treatment or for up to several months afterward. These problems may affect tendons in your shoulder, your hand, the back of your ankle, or in other parts of your body. Tendinitis or tendon rupture may happen to people of any age, but the risk is highest in people over 60 years of age.
The warnings finish with:
Talk to your doctor about the risks of taking levofloxacin.
I must confess that I screwed up because of a lack of consciousness. Although I always tell people to read the side effects before taking a prescription medicine, in this case I didn´t do that. It just didn´t occur to me. After all…how dangerous could an antibiotic be?
For so many of us, we blindly tend to trust our doctor´s advice, so much so, that we don´t ask questions, when we should, or we´re simply afraid to confront him or her, with our doubts. After all…what do we know? We forget that they´re human beings just like us and, just like us, they make mistakes. Maybe, that´s why, every year in the United States, prescription drug side effects kill over 200,000 people. On a list of causes of death, that would put it at #3, behind Heart Disease and Cancer and ahead of Respiratory Diseases and Accidents. And that doesn´t include other damages that may not kill us but could seriously affect our lives and the lives of our loved ones. And the sad thing is that doctors’ rarely have to answer for their mistakes…because they have nobody to answer to.
In order to make a conscious decision we need to have sufficient information…so that we can make the right choice. In the case of my friend, once she became aware of the benefits as well as the risks, she could then weigh both sides and decide whether the benefits are worth the risks. If we are only told by our doctors about the benefits then our choice cannot be conscious. When we see a a drug being promoted on TV, we are told about the possible side effects. I listen to the ads and find it hard to believe that someone would actually take that drug. But at least people are being given the pros and the cons, so that they can make a personal decision.
For some reason that transparency which we see on the TV is not being afforded to us by so many doctors. We are not being told about possible side effects of the prescription drugs we take. For that reason, we need to assume that responsibility by checking the information online. If we don´t, then we are gambling with our lives, increasing the possibility that, one day, we may become part of that 200,000 statistic.