10½ things you may not know about side effects

Did you know that your herbal remedy can damage the effectiveness of your prescribed drugs or that grapefruit juice can affect your medication?

Everybody takes medicines, but not many people are aware of the side effects or what they can do about them. The Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Drug Safety Science, based at the University of Liverpool, and  Sense about Science have collaborated to launch: “10½ things you may not know about side effects.”

Developed following public workshops, the animation is designed to help people learn more about side effects – why they occur, how to manage them and how medicines can be made safer by reporting them.

The 10½ things highlighted include:

  • Every medicine has side effects: All medicines have side effects but are tested to check that, for most people, the benefit of taking the medicine far outweighs the side effects.
  • Giving medicines the yellow card: We can all help to improve drug safety by reporting side effects. Through the MHRA Yellow Card app we can report effects we, or those we care for, have experienced.
  • Food can amplify side effects: Certain foods can compromise, reverse or amplify the effects of different medications. Grapefruit juice is well known for amplifying effects, leafy greens can reverse effects and there’s such a thing as the ‘cheese reaction’.
  • Herbal supplements can interact with medicines: for example, St John’s Wort interacts with 903 medicines, 264 of them seriously.
  • Some side effects are beneficial: Viagra started its life as a treatment for angina, then its beneficial side effect led to it becoming the world’s most successful treatment for impotence.

By raising awareness of side-effects and what can cause them, the MRC Centre for Drug Safety Science and Sense about Science hope that more people will report side effects and be better able to manage their health.

The animation and  companion guide can both be downloaded by visiting www.liverpool.ac.uk/drug-safety/drug-safety/

Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, Director of the MRC Centre for Drug Safety Science, said: “Medicines have helped to treat or cure numerous diseases. Yet all medicines can cause side effects. Our research centre, funded by the Medical Research Council, studies these side effects. Our work aims to improve medicines for all,  by developing strategies that can predict, prevent or diagnose harm from medicines, so that we and others can make them even more beneficial and safe.”

Rebecca Asher, Deputy Director at Sense about Science, said: “People are often surprised to discover that side effects are normal. Now we have longer life expectancy and some previously fatal conditions can be managed with medicines, the need for a common understanding of what’s meant by side effects, why they happen and what to do about them is urgent.”

Jane Burns, who took part in the public workshop in Liverpool, said:  “The animation is brilliant, really informative. It’s important that the public know that they need to tell their doctors everything that they are taking, even herbal products, so that they have all the information. Also, patients need to be aware that it’s ok to experience some side effects, as long as the benefits outweigh any minor discomfort.”

Mick Foy, group manager for MHRA’s Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicines division said: “Our priority, as regulator, is to make sure the medicines you and your family take are effective and acceptably safe. The reporting of suspected side effects is vital in helping us achieve this.

“Everyone, from healthcare professionals to patients themselves, can help make medicines safer by reporting any suspected side effects easily and quickly through our Yellow Card Scheme online or via the free mobile app.”