Most medications cause unpleasant side effects. For the majority of patients, these improve within a few weeks of starting medication, but for others, side effects never go away. Nevertheless, patients can prevent and manage medication side effects as they happen.
Here are nine tips to help you to prevent and manage the most common side effects of medication:
- Take medication with food to help with nausea and stomach issues. Nausea and other stomach issues, such as gas and bloating, usually arise the first week or two of starting a new medication. These side effects usually go way within a few weeks as your body adjusts to the medication. Take your medication with food and eat several small meals rather than three big meals. Drink plenty of liquids, including cold water and ginger ale, to soothe stomach aches and nausea. Peppermint candy and dry crackers can also help to settle your stomach. Avoid greasy, fried and spicy foods.
- Change your diet to maintain weight. You may gain weight because some medications cause increased appetite. Other reasons for weight gain are fluid retention and a lack of exercise. You can minimize weight gain by being active, staying away from sweets and high calorie drinks and also by eating smaller, more frequent, meals. If weight gain becomes a huge concern, talk to your doctor about switching medications or adjusting the dose.
- Be open about sexual side effects. It is not unusual for medications to cause sexual side effects, including decreased desire, difficulty reaching orgasm, and erectile dysfunction. If you find yourself dealing with sexual side effects, talk to your doctor about taking a one-a-day dose and plan sexual activity before taking medication. Also, talk to your partner about how sexual side effects affect you. Effective communication and adjustment of routines can make intimacy easier.
- Get plenty of rest and stay active. Fatigue and drowsiness are very common side effects of medication and often occur during the early weeks of treatment. Daytime drowsiness will go away once your body adjusts to the medication. In the meantime, ask your doctor if you can take your medication at bedtime and avoid driving if you are feeling drowsy. Naps during the day and exercise can help to minimize fatigue and drowsiness. If drowsiness and fatigue continue after one month, talk to your doctor about adjusting your dose.
- Take medications early to avoid sleep issues. Nightmares and insomnia are common because medications have a tendency to increase your energy or may contain caffeine. If you are not sleeping well at night, you will be tired during the day. Taking medication earlier in the day and avoiding caffeinated drinks close to bedtime will help you to cope. Activity can help you to sleep better but exercise should be completed at least three to four hours before bedtime. If your sleep issues continue, ask your doctor about prescribing a sleep aid or about trying a new medication that does not cause sleep disturbances.
- Manage dry mouth issues as they come up. Dry mouth is a very common side effect. Drinking plenty of water and chewing sugarless gum can help minimize dry mouth. Brush twice daily and see your dentist regularly because dry mouth increases your chances of getting cavities. If dry mouth becomes a big problem, talk to your doctor about using a mouth spray that stimulates saliva production.
- Talk to your doctor about dry eyes. Dry eyes and blurred vision are common and usually go away within a couple weeks of starting a medication. If it is an ongoing issue, ask your doctor about special eye drops to help with dryness or even a lower dose to minimize dry eyes and blurred vision.
- Be mindful of dizziness. Some medications can cause dizziness but this side effect usually goes away within a few weeks. Take medication at bedtime to avoid feeling dizzy during the day. Avoid driving while experiencing this side effect. Also, stay away from caffeine and alcohol if you are experiencing dizziness. Last, be mindful when rising from a sitting position and when standing for long periods.
- Pay attention to anxiety and restlessness. Sometimes medications can cause anxiety and restlessness. Regular exercise can help to minimize some of these feelings. Try deep breathing exercises or yoga to calm yourself. If you find that these side effects become extremely troublesome and do not go away after a couple weeks, talk to your doctor about switching to a new medication or taking a medication that can help to relax you.
Remember that most medications cause mild side effects that improve within a few weeks time. In some cases, side effects do not go away. If side effects seem especially difficult, you may be tempted to stop taking your medication or to try a reduced dose. Doing this is a mistake because symptoms will return and you may experience withdrawal signs. Always talk to your doctor about any side effects that seem severe or do not go away within a few weeks or before quitting or reducing medication.