On Twitter a follower asked me about a specific side effect of a medication. She was considering taking the medication and was worried she might suffer from this side effect. This is a reasonable concern and it’s good that she’s researching the drug’s effects and possible problems ahead of time.
But the thing is, while knowing about the possibilities is good, worrying about the possibilities is pretty useless. You won’t know if you will get the side effect unless you actually try the drug. The only way to know what is going to happen is to roll the dice.
Medication Side Effects
If you look at any given medication you will see they have many, many side effects. And side effects are tracked even if they occur very rarely in the population. So if you’re in a study and you suddenly go cross-eyed, that gets listed as a rare side effect regardless as to whether it had anything to do with the drug.
Of course, more common side effects occur in a statistically significant percentage of the population (like, say, 10% above the placebo rate) and these become noted as common side effects.
But you have to understand the difference. Yes, uncommon side effects may happen, but they probably won’t.
And I’m all for understanding the risks of a medication. Some medications carry significant risks that are very common so it’s wise to know about these going in. It’s also wise to know about the common side effects so you know what to look for in case it happens to you. You should be informed. It’s your body you’re putting the drugs into.
Worrying About Medication Side Effects
But the trouble is, you can’t know if you’re going to get a side effect until you take the drug. Worried about weight gain? Understandable. But many people take drugs without experiencing any. And the only way you’re going to know if you’re going to gain weight on a drug is to take it. Plain and simple.
So looking at a drug’s side effects and asking people about them and worrying isn’t really useful. I would mostly consider it a waste of time worrying about something that might not even happen to you. It’s like Russian Roulette. The only way to know if the round is chambered is to pull the trigger.
Low and Slow
So there is only one thing to do about medication side effects – try the medication and see. Give yourself a couple of months to try it out and see what happens. The time to worry about side effects is after you get them, not before. You can abandon a medication trial at any time.
The trick to experiencing the fewest side effects is this: start low and go slow. And when I say this I mean start lower than recommended by the manufacturer and go slower than recommended by the manufacturer. And if you’re sensitive to medications, go slower than that.
And then wait and watch. Be prepared to experience some side effects that may even out with time. Be prepared to stop when you reach a certain level of side effects or if the medication isn’t working. Be prepared to change tactics if you find the side effects are intolerable.
In short, go low and slow and wait and watch. It’s really all you can do. All the worrying about the possibilities ahead of time is not going to change what will happen when you do that.