These three digital tools can help you decide.
By Christie Aschwanden
You already know that aspirin can upset your stomach and antihistamines may make you drowsy. But you might not recognize forgetfulness as a side effect of your cholesterol-lowering statin, or a torn Achilles tendon as the result of an antibiotic. Even though a drug's possible risks are included on the leaflet that accompanies the pill bottle, the list isn't necessarily complete, says Leana Wen, MD, coauthor of When Doctors Don't Listen. Pre-approval drug trials typically aren't large enough to identify every potential negative outcome, so more problems are likely to turn up once a medication hits the market. From 2008 to 2012, the FDA saw a 90 percent uptick in the number of reported adverse drug incidents (due in part to the 266 new drugs that came on the scene). However, staying informed about side effects is getting easier: These resources are a good starting point to determine whether a drug designed to help one problem is causing another.
Like Yelp for Rx drugs, this site contains an easily searchable database of more than 5.6 million reports of side effects sent to the FDA by doctors, nurses, pharmacists, patients, and drug companies since 1997. Enter your symptoms to see the most frequently implicated meds.
Sometimes negative reactions are a result of mixing drugs. Type in the prescriptions you're taking, and this app will call up a list of possible dangerous interactions from among more than 1,500 common medications. For instance, you may be surprised to find out that taking an SSRI antidepressant with certain types of cough medication can cause shivering, restlessness, and even high blood pressure. Findings like this are regularly uploaded to the app, so you'll always be in the loop.
Created in collaboration with the FDA, this app allows you to sign up for alerts -- sourced from FDA reports and social-media posts -- about new drug safety information. (One recent example: In August, the FDA issued an order that the warning labels of some common antibiotics, called fluoroquinolones, must be updated to include the risk of permanent nerve damage.) If a drug you're tracking is the subject of an alert, the info will be texted to your phone.