Friday, September 2, 2011

Should I Be Taking This?

  • Serious infections. These include TB and infections caused by viruses, fungi, or bacteria. Symptoms related to TB include a cough, low-grade fever, weight loss, or loss of body fat and muscle.
  • Nervous system problems. Signs and symptoms include numbness or tingling, problems with your vision, weakness in your arms or legs, and dizziness.
  • Heart failure (new or worsening). Symptoms include shortness of breath, swelling of your ankles or feet, and sudden weight gain.
  • Immune reactions including a lupus-like syndrome. Symptoms include chest discomfort or pain that does not go away, shortness of breath, joint pain, or rash on your cheeks or arms that gets worse in the sun.      (partial list)
We see them advertised all the time on TV, medications for conditions ranging from big time threats like stroke and heart disease to trivial issues like sparse eyelashes.  The inspiring dramatizations, featuring handsome actors and beautiful settings, are there to assure us that if we take X life will be much better.  At the end of each commercial is a list of warnings.  Do people really listen to these?

When we watch these ads, even if we listen to the warnings, we’re only getting part of the picture, the part the manufacturers want us to see.  Many of these drugs and relatively new; nobody has had the experience of taking them over a long period of time or of seeing how they will interact with foods, supplements, and other drugs that a particular patient may be taking.

Even the drug testing process that is supposed to verify the safety and effectiveness of medications may be tainted by self-interest.  The Wikipedia article on the pharmaceutical industry cites, “accusations and findings that some clinical trials conducted or funded by pharmaceutical companies may report only positive results” and drug companies’ rewarding of drug researchers who report results favorable to their products (as well as threats of lawsuits against those who raise discomfiting questions).  Studies that compare the effectiveness of various remedies (including some that may cost little or nothing) are few and far between.

Let’s be honest:  all health care is a balancing act.  Each individual decision should be based on a cost/benefit analysis relating to the patient’s situation at the time.  If I have an invasive cancer I may be willing to try almost any therapy including those that are toxic or could have dangerous interactions or side effects.  In the case of less threatening conditions I need to ask, “Is the drug with its cost and its possible risks really worth it?”

Getting back to the world of ads, I think it would make sense for the warnings to be listed at the beginning of the commercial before the viewer is seduced by the lovely photography and soothing words.  I’m going to start doing this with some examples I’ve encountered recently.

HUMIRA is a prescription medicine used alone, with methotrexate, or with certain other medicines to reduce the signs and symptoms of moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis in adults, may prevent further damage to your bones and joints, and may help your ability to perform daily activities.

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