Think It Through: A Guide to Managing the Benefits and Risks of Medicines
For many people, taking medication is a regular part of the daily routine, and these medicines are relied upon to treat disease and improve health. Although medicines can make you feel better and help you get well, it's important to know that all medicines, both prescription and over-the-counter, have risks as well as benefits.
The benefits of medicines are the helpful effects you get when you use them, such as lowering blood pressure, curing infection, or relieving pain. The risks of medicines are the chances that something unwanted or unexpected could happen to you when you use them. Risks could be less serious things, such as an upset stomach, or more serious things, such as liver damage.
Here are some tips from the Food and Drug Administration and some of its public health partners to help you weigh the risks and benefits when you make decisions about the medicines you use.
When a medicine's benefits outweigh its known risks, the FDA considers it safe enough to approve. But before using any medicine--as with many things that you do every day--you should think through the benefits and the risks in order to make the best choice for you.
There are several types of risks from medicine use:
For example, every time you get into a car, there are risks. You could have an accident, causing costly damage to your car, or injury to yourself or a loved one. But there are also benefits to riding in a car: you can travel farther and faster than walking, bring home more groceries from the store, and travel in cold or wet weather in greater comfort.
To obtain the benefits of riding in a car, you think through the risks. You consider the condition of your car and the road, for instance, before deciding to make that trip to the store.
The same is true before using any medicine. Every choice to take a medicine involves thinking through the helpful effects as well as the possible unwanted effects.
Here are some specific ways to lower the risks and obtain the full benefits of medicines:
Talk With Your Doctor, Pharmacist, or Other Health-Care Professionals
Know Your Medicines--Prescription and Over-the-Counter
Read the Label and Follow Directions
Monitor Your Medicines' Effects--and the Effects of Other Products That You Use
The preceding was adapted from a publication of the Partnership for Safe Medication Use, a group of professional associations and societies, trade associations and government agencies dedicated to educating and empowering health consumers. For more on the partnership's members, go to www.fda.gov/cder/consumerinfo/think.htm.
Weighing the Risks, Making the Choice
The benefit-risk decision is sometimes difficult to make. The best choice depends on your particular situation.
You must decide what risks you can and will accept in order to get the benefits you want. For example, if facing a life-threatening illness, you might choose to accept more risk in the hope of getting the benefits of a cure or living a longer life. On the other hand, if you are facing a minor illness, you might decide that you want to take very little risk. In many situations, the expert advice of your doctor, pharmacist, or other health-care professionals can help you make the decision.
Reprinted from FDA Consumer. This article originally appeared in the November-December 2002 FDA Consumer.
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