Tag Archives: side effects

Look up and report Rx drug side effects online

In the past few years several consumer-driven databases have sprung up that allow you to look up and report side effects to prescription drugs. The FDA’s method of collecting and reporting side effects is slow and inefficient and relies mostly on doctors’ reports of patient complaints. Apparently doctors tend to report only “medically serious” complaints like nausea or abdominal pain, and consider things like sexual dysfunction to be not worth mentioning. On top of that, many people don’t even bother sharing side effects with their doctors, probably because they know the exchange will go like this:

Doctor: Any problem with the flurextrothimstim?
Patient: Yeah, my eyelashes started to fall out.
Doctor: Really? I’ve never heard of that! Give me a call in a few months and tell me if it’s still happening.

Only the rare practitioner will tell you that some Rx meds might worsen a condition or even cause brand new ones. Doctors’ knowledge about side effects of drugs they prescribe is often based solely on what their pharma sales rep has told them. Quite often the doctor has not accumulated enough patient input about the Rx to get an idea of its galaxy of effects.

Here are the three databases I know of. Let me know if there are others.

Adverse Events: The site owners have sorted through all the FDA reports and made them easier to find and understand. Here’s a Wall Street Journal article about it. Safety and recall warnings are also featured.

Crazy Meds: This focuses on psych meds and includes reports by users who’ve actually taken the drugs. The site features a discussion forum and you can leave comments on the webpages for each Rx drug they talk about. (Be warned that the founder is strongly against alternative medicine.) They do have a refreshing sense of humor. Here’s their intro:

“Welcome to Crazy Meds, where you can learn what’s good, what’s bad, what’s interesting, and what’s plain weird and funny about the medications used to treat depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, epilepsy, migraines, anxiety, neuropathic pain, or whatever psychiatric and/or neurological condition you might have.”

Rxisk.org: This site was founded by “pharmaco-vigilance experts,” which sounds like they mean business. When you submit a side effect, you can print out a report to take to your doctor. I’m not sure what’s on the report — the incidence of similar reported effects, I’d hope. You can also look up your drug by side effect by going to the site’s Hair Zone, Skin and Nails Zone, Suicide Zone, Sex Zone, Violence Zone or Symptoms Upon Stopping Zone. Currently the site’s blog is discussing pre-pregnancy risks of SSRIs.

50,000 IU doses of vitamin D might not be such a great idea

A commenter (Blake) on a recent post directed my attention to Dr. Stasha Gominak’s series of videos on her work treating sleep disorders with vitamin D. The videos run more than an hour, but here’s a summary of some of her points. One of her points — of course, not covered on the summary — is that those whopping 50,000 IU vitamin D pills that some doctors give to their patients to take once a week are not as effective as taking it daily in smaller amounts.

I’m not sure if she was referring to the fact that the majority of those 50,000 pills used to be in the D2 form, which is not as effective, or to a claim I’ve read elsewhere that past a certain dose, the larger the dose, the less effectively it is absorbed, so that one day of 50,000 IU actually provides less vitamin D than ten days of 5,000 IU. Of course now I can find no such citation. Aren’t I helpful?

Another reason to replete with smaller, daily doses is to lower the risk of catastrophic interactions. If you’re low in vitamin D, you’re probably low in other nutrients, and taking a whole lot of one nutrient can wipe out its cofactors, and depending on the extent of your deficiency of that cofactor, the deficiency symptoms can be pretty bad. In my case, I had unknowingly been suffering from reallllly low vitamin K levels, and the mega-whoppa-D3 dose shot it to hell. I had an asthma-like attack that was very scary. I thought about going to the ER but luckily it tapered off quickly enough and my doctor was able to get me an appointment with a pulmonary specialist within a few days.

The specialist said it was just a one-off asthma attack caused by a hitherto-unknown vitamin D allergy. I knew that vitamin D interacted with vitamin A, so I asked him if asthma was linked to vitamin A deficiency. Why I bothered, I do not know: some delusional fit of psychotic optimism hit me. He went to his computer, looked up vitamin A in the clinic’s database, which from what I could see was no better than any consumer medical database you can find online, and said that vitamin A deficiency is only a problem in orphans in India, where it causes blindness. Ah, I said. Okay then. Later I somehow stumbled onto this 1975 Japanese study and started to figure it out.

In an older person or smaller person or someone much sicker, that reaction could’ve been disastrous and even more terrifying than it was for me. By sticking with a smaller dose, my reactions would, I assume, have been smaller and hopefully more manageable.

I did appreciate Dr. Gominak’s comment that “We blame people who can’t sleep,” which I have found to be very, very true. Humans are idiots, have you noticed? I have to say, though, that I am annoyed by her claim that she is the first to recognize the link between vitamin D and sleep. Perhaps she’s just not being specific enough, or is referring only to the world of neurologists, but my osteopath mentioned it a lot earlier than 2009.

Three strange and unexpected effects of correcting a vitamin or mineral deficiency

1. Vivid dreams.
This effect of vitamin B6 is fairly well-known. Some members of Yahoo’s pyroluria group (pyroluria is a condition in which vitamin B6 is chronically deficient) say that you’re at the right dose when your remembered dreams are pleasant, and that you’re on too much if they are too vivid or jittery-making, but I’ve never come to any conclusion myself.

2. Random, pointless memories.
I’ve occasionally experienced this when repleting with big doses of calcium, magnesium, iron, or B12, all closely associated with memory. At the same time I realized I could recall long-forgotten Photoshop commands or go to the grocery store without a shopping list, I would also be visited by utterly insignificant memories floating across my brain: the brickwork around the entrance to a store in my old neighborhood that I never even went in, or a pair of flip-flops I wanted in fifth grade that my mother wouldn’t buy for me. I wouldn’t call them intrusive thoughts, a term used SQUIRREL in discussing mood disorders; it’s more like the Goodyear blimp materializing above your backyard — quiet, harmless, and unmistakably out of place.

My theory is that in repletion the brain finally has the resources to process the backlog of old memories, but the worker imps assigned to sort through the piles and stacks aren’t used to having to work so fast and in the chaos they occasionally send a memory down the consciousness pneumatic tube instead of the archives tube, leaving you standing in the shower wondering why the &@!* the third stanza of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” just popped into your head. There are studies to back this up — Harvard, NIH, SETI — but I don’t have time to search for the citations right now.

3. Aches in old bone injuries.
I was warned about this by another pillpopper prior to taking calcium the first time. Rebuilding calcium levels, either with calcium or with vitamin D, might encourage your body to start repairing old bone injuries, causing fleeting aches and pains. For me the loci of the pains correspond closely to past incidents involving coffee tables, ten-speed bikes, and gravel running tracks.

Note: beware a constant, dull pain, as it can be a sign of toxicity, which I once had after waaaaaaaay too much vitamin A.