Side Effects Causing More Patients to Abandon Treatment

by on December 31, 2011

People who are taking medications that are often life-saving are beginning to abandon their treatments due to harsh and unwanted side effects. This problem is becoming an epidemic in the United States, and researchers continue to work furiously to find new ways of treating illnesses without adding to them.

Why People Stop Taking Their Medicines

People who have chronic illnesses already suffer from a myriad of symptoms; cancer, Crohn’s disease, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain are all very difficult to live with on a daily basis. When medications that were developed to help treat these conditions actually end up making patients feel worse, there is a very strong likelihood that these treatments will be abandoned altogether in order for the patients to enjoy a better quality of life. Almost everyone has experienced some sort of medication-induced side effects, but when the side effects of the medication outweigh its benefits—at least in the eyes of the patient—it can quickly become a recipe for disaster.

Side Effects

Cancer and Chemotherapy

Perhaps the most well-known treatment for cancer is chemotherapy, and the side effects of this treatment are very well documented. Cancer patients are often terrified of these treatments due to media coverage, cinema, and television events; or perhaps they have witnessed the downward spiral of a friend or family member who has undergone chemotherapy. There is no argument that the side effects of chemotherapy—nausea, fatigue, weight loss, hair loss, and lethargy—are severe, but many patients are left with no other choice. Chemotherapy equals survival in these cases, and the increased incidence of patients refusing or stopping their treatment due to the side effects is staggering.

High Cholesterol and ‘Statin’ Drugs

Although the incidence of severe side effects from statin drugs is low, patients that experience them are often so put-off by their occurrence that they stop taking the medications altogether. Statin drugs such as Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor and Pravastatin are designed to lower cholesterol in the arteries, thereby reducing the threats of heart attack and stroke. Even the mild side effects of statin drugs are bothersome to many; for instance, people taking statin drugs are advised against taking any medications for erectile dysfunction. In essence, the life-saving medication designed to prevent heart attacks and strokes is also prohibiting people from enjoying a healthy sexual life. This often results in people stopping their treatment abruptly.

Treating Depression

The number of medications on the market to treat depression is vast, and none of them are without side effects. Most people are not bothered by these medicines, but those who are familiar with the more severe end of the side effect spectrum do not take any anti-depressant medications at all. Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, and others are very common names, but few people realize the effects these medications can have on the brain. The risk of birth defects in babies born to mothers who took the medicines during pregnancy is huge, so there is no other choice for pregnant women than to abruptly stop treatment upon becoming or attempting to become pregnant.

Anxiety Medications

Benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin (Clonazepam) are widely used to treat situational and chronic anxiety in the United States. These medications make people extremely drowsy, and many report going throughout their days in a dream-like state. When patients are forced to choose between debilitating anxiety and chronic fatigue, this only adds to their anxiety. Recent years have seen the development of new drug families designed to treat chronic anxiety, but their effectiveness has yet to be fully understood and many people find that although there are very few side effects with these medicines, their anxiety is only marginally better—often not enough to justify the cost of the medication.

Chronic Pain Management

Chronic pain is a real problem in the United States, and it is estimated that one in five people will deal with it at some point in their lives. Over-the-counter pain relievers are fantastic options for everyday aches and pains, but chronic pain sufferers are often prescribed much stronger narcotic medications in order to provide adequate pain relief. Narcotic medications in the opiate class—Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin (Oxycodone)—come with an entire menagerie of side effects that are often undesirable. Because of this, it is extremely difficult for patients and doctors to come up with a pain management plan that balances effective pain relief with manageable narcotic-induced side effects.

Managing Seizures and Epilepsy

The medications used to treat chronic seizures and epilepsy have some very displeasing side effects; many people reduce their medications or stop taking them altogether as a result. Medicines like Tegretol and Lamictal are widely prescribed and are known to cause dizziness, nausea, extreme fatigue, and general feelings of being unwell. These side effects force patients to either feel terrible most of the time or stop taking their medications altogether at the risk of more frequent and severe seizures.

With the increased incidence of people stopping or reducing their medications without their physicians’ approval due to their side effects, it is clear that something needs to be done. Research continues to find newer, more tolerable medications to treat these and other chronic conditions.

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