Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

A drug with 70 side effects? That’s just par for the course

4882443448_ab47e2f22b_m(3)Mobile phone users who balked at the idea that their telephone providers can track their every move have recently learned the hard way that reading the fine print is important. But while it’s custom practice to blindly accept usage agreements for telephones and computer programs, it’s tougher to operate with the same nonchalance when it comes to reading the side effects listed on the side of drug boxes. To make matters worse, a study published yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine estimates that the average drug has about 70 side effects.

The study, led by Jon Duke of the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, analyzed the labels of nearly 5,600 medicines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and currently on the market. The team found that the top 200 prescribed medications in the US in 2008 had 100 side effects on average.

Antidepressants, antiviral drugs and Parkinson’s medications were among the therapies with the longest list of side effects, according to the new research.

Duke warns that this information overload can confuse physicians and dissuade patients from taking their medications. “We need to wake up and make these labels more usable,” he says. “We need labels that communicate real risks.” He adds, however, that the vast majority of side effects recorded on drug labels are minor.

In future, the team urges manufacturers to develop smart labels that can communicate personalized safety information relevant to patients. “Manufacturers really need to try to avoid the instinct of putting everything on the label,” Duke told Nature Medicine.


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