How to Recognize and Avoid Medication Side Effects

Published On: June 22nd, 2023Categories: Healthy Living, Helpful Tips & Tricks, Patients

When starting a new medication, there is always the risk of side effects occurring. While side effects are often minor, some may be severe or even life-threatening. The key to avoiding dangerous side effects is recognizing them early and taking proper action. Monitoring how your body responds to a new medication and knowing when to contact your doctor and pharmacists can help reduce health risks significantly. Although side effects can occur with any drug, being proactive and informed helps ensure you get the benefits of your treatment while avoiding harm.

Common Side Effects of Medications

Being aware of common side effects associated with medications can help you recognize and address them early. Some typical side effects to monitor include:

  • Gastrointestinal issues: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain are frequent side effects of many medications. If these persist or worsen, contact your doctor and pharmacist team. They may be able to change the dosage or switch you to an alternative.
  • Dizziness or drowsiness: Feeling lightheaded, dizzy or excessively drowsy can impact your ability to operate heavy machinery or drive. Use caution with any activity requiring mental alertness or coordination.
  • Skin rashes and itching: Rashes, hives, and pruritus (itchy skin) may indicate an allergic reaction. Seek medical care immediately if you experience swelling of the lips, face, tongue, and throat or shortness of breath.
  • Headaches: Headaches are a common complaint and can usually be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers. However, severe or persistent headaches require further evaluation from your physician.
  • Changes in blood pressure: Some drugs may cause changes in blood pressure, either elevating or dropping your BP. Have your blood pressure monitored regularly while on any new medication. Significant changes will need to be addressed by your doctor.
  • Alterations in blood sugar: Various medications can affect blood glucose levels. If you have diabetes or prediabetes, check your blood sugar levels frequently when starting a new drug and report any significant changes to your doctor right away.
  • Changes in mood or thinking. Some drugs can cause side effects like depression, anxiety, confusion, or impaired memory or concentration. Talk to your doctor if you notice significant or persistent changes in your mood, thoughts, or behavior.
  • Pain or discomfort. Unusual or severe pain in the muscles, joints or organs may be a side effect.

By understanding potential side effects, you can take precautions to minimize risks and get the most benefit from your medications. By monitoring how you feel each day and watching for the signs of side effects, you can help avoid complications and ensure the best outcome from your medications. Be sure to report any bothersome or concerning side effects to your doctor so they can determine if adjustments or alternatives may be needed.

When Side Effects Become Severe: Signs You Need Emergency Care

While most side effects of medications are minor, some can indicate an emergency medical situation. Be aware of the following severe side effects and call 911 or go to an emergency room right away if you experience them.

Difficulty Breathing

If you have trouble breathing, experience wheezing or shortness of breath, it could signal a dangerous allergic reaction. Respiratory problems require immediate emergency care.

Chest Pain

Chest pain, pressure, or discomfort could indicate a heart attack. Do not delay—call emergency services right away.


Swelling of the face, tongue, lips or throat can obstruct airways and lead to suffocation if not treated promptly. This swelling is a medical emergency.


Seizures or convulsions require emergency care. Call 911 if someone experiences uncontrolled jerking movements or shaking, especially if it’s their first seizure or lasts more than a few minutes.

High Fever

A high fever (over 103 F or 39.4 C) can lead to seizures in some individuals, especially children or elderly. Seek medical care promptly for a high fever, as it can also cause dehydration if left untreated.


Hallucinations or delusions can indicate a severe psychiatric condition and require evaluation by a medical professional as soon as possible. Call emergency services right away.

Loss of Consciousness

If someone loses consciousness or experiences a sudden change in mental status, call 911 immediately. This could signal a life-threatening condition like a stroke, drug overdose or head injury.

Pay close attention for these and other serious side effects when starting a new medication or changing dosages. It’s always better to be safe and seek emergency care right away if severe side effects develop. Your health and safety should be the top priority.

Tips to Minimize the Risk of Side Effects

To minimize your risk of side effects from medications, there are several prudent steps you can take.

Follow the Instructions Carefully

Carefully follow the instructions provided by your physician or pharmacist regarding dosage, frequency, and duration of use. Taking too much or too little of a medication, or stopping a medication too soon, can lead to side effects or lack of effectiveness.

Be Aware of Possible Side Effects

Read the information provided with your medication to understand potential side effects and their severity. Report any serious or bothersome side effects to your doctor right away. Common side effects may subside over time as your body adjusts to the medication. However, if side effects are severe or last more than a few days, contact your doctor.

Make Lifestyle Changes

Certain lifestyle factors can exacerbate side effects or reduce effectiveness. Your doctor may advise you to:

  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine which can interact with some medications.
  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water which aids your body in processing medications.
  • Get extra rest which allows your body to focus its efforts on adjusting to the medication.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet to give your body the necessary nutrients. Some medications require taking with food or on an empty stomach. Follow the instructions provided.

Keep Records

Keep records of any side effects you experience, their severity, and duration. Share this information with your doctor and pharmacist. Your doctor may adjust the dosage or switch you to an alternative medication to improve your tolerance and reduce side effects.

By taking an active role in understanding the medications you take and how they might impact you, you gain more control over your health outcomes and a safer path to recovery or management of conditions. Working with a specialty pharmacy, like PFSP Specialty Pharmacy can help minimize side effects and lead to better treatment outcomes. With additional resources and staff to help educate and inform, PFSP can provide the support needed to help patients live enriching and full lives.

PFSP Specialty Pharmacy provides patients and their physicians an exceptionally high standard of care with our growing team of specialized pharmacists and staff. Our dedicated team of pharmacists focus on improving adherence for patients and work to find an approach that works best for them. Bringing a fresh take on what a Specialty Pharmacy can and should be, we are committed to the care of our patients. We take pride in being an ethical resource within our community and strive each day to help our patients live enriching and full lives.