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The Long-Term Side Effects of Your Medication Matter

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Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

Some medications are necessary to keep people alive — such as radiation for cancer and augmentation therapy for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency — which can outweigh the side effects. However, with  other illnesses (such as endometriosis), those struggling are trying to decrease their pain and other symptoms as well as be able to bear children.

I talk about hormone agonist medication frequently because of what I and so many others who are living with endometriosis have been through when we tried this as a treatment. This hormone agonist is an injection used to treat prostate cancer, but many doctors/gynecologists also use it to treat endometriosis. Because it is used for cancer treatment, this makes it a chemotherapy drug. Endometriosis is not cancer even though it can spread throughout any part of the body. So why are doctors trying to treat an illness that isn’t cancer with a chemotherapy drug? This is one question that has yet to be answered.

Side effects that people who use hormone agonists can experience and doctors may not tell patients about include osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), suicidal ideations, brittle or breaking teeth, hot flashes/menopause/night sweats, and headaches, among others. Oftentimes, these side effects are irreversible — meaning once you have them, they don’t improve.

For example, once you break a tooth or have osteoporosis, you can try to prevent breaking other teeth by taking more vitamin D and calcium, but you can’t grow a tooth to replace it. Once you injure a bone, you can’t go back in time to not injure the bone. You can use crutches or a splint to try to heal the bone as much as possible, but it will never be the same. This is how side effects can be life-altering.

Hormone agonists aren’t the only medication that cause harmful side effects, which may be worse than what the medication is trying to treat.

Should money outweigh the side effects patients may experience from a medication? No.

Is it true that doctors can’t predict which side effects each patient will have from the medication? Yes, but patients still have the right to know all of the information about the drug from their doctor upfront.

Should doctors give patients all of the information about a medication before asking the patient if they want to use it as a form of treatment? Yes.

Unfortunately, this isn’t how the health care system or the world works. We are responsible for looking up information about our illness, treatment options, and any other important information that could affect our health care. We have to be our own advocate.

Please research the treatment options being offered for your chronic illness as well as other options you may have before making a decision, because side effects may not go away and can be life-altering. It’s important to know the side effects that are possible and weigh your options with the illness you are trying to treat.

Getty image by Sylverarts

Originally published: April 6, 2020
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