By Erin R. King
March 12 (CBS HealthWatch)--People want to be armed with as much information as possible when it comes to the potential side effects of medications, according to a new study.
Researchers asked 2,500 people about the amount of information they wanted their doctor to share about the potential side effects of drugs, from the most common side effects to the extremely rare ones.
"The number-one striking finding was the extremely high percentage of individuals who indicated, of the choices, that they wanted to know all possible side effects from a medication," says the study's lead author Dewey K. Ziegler, MD, professor emeritus of neurology at the University of Kansas Medical School.
The researchers found that 76.2% of people wanted to be told of "all possible" adverse effects. Also, the people who wanted the most information about drug side effects tended to be the people with the lowest levels of education, rather than people of a specific age or gender.
It would be "highly impractical" for doctors to go over all the available information with every patient, Ziegler says. Nevertheless, people often look to--and probably trust--their doctors more than they do the drug's package insert, he notes.
"The pharmaceutical companies provide, with drugs, printed information, but it's in minute type--tiny type, and not very commonly do people read all of that," Ziegler says.
"All" that information usually consists of a long list of complaints, ranging from nausea to headache to more frightening complications, such as death.
Ziegler and his colleagues conclude that doctors should have a brief conversation with patients about the "more frequent and serious adverse effects" of the drugs they prescribe, and mention to the patient that there may be other rare side effects they haven't mentioned. If the patient wants to know more, the doctor could supply printed information or direct the patient to other sources.
While there are some clearly documented side effects, often doctors are not privy to any more information on a drug's side effects than patients would be if they read the drug's package insert.
"When it comes to adverse effects of drugs, the information that physicians have on this is as questionable as the information that patients have," says Bruce Stuart, PhD, director of the Peter Lamy Center on Drug Therapy and Aging at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.
The information on side effects found on package inserts is required by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and these lists of adverse effects are usually based on the side effects felt by patients who participated in the drug's clinical trials.
The precise relationship between a drug and its side effects is sometimes unclear, Stuart says. A participant's symptom may simply be coincidental, but if its cause can't be pinpointed to something other than the drug, it may wind up on the package insert anyway, since the FDA requires all adverse effects to be listed.
"Trying to draw that causal link is very, very difficult," Stuart says.
There are a number of different sources for more information on drug safety and the side effects of drugs, Stuart says, and the most reliable source is probably in your own home town.
"The pharmacist is clearly the first line," Stuart says. Your pharmacist has information on your current medications and may have access to those you have taken in the past, as well as complete information on known drug interactions and side effects.
The study is published
in the March 12 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
© 2001 by Medscape