In the past few years several consumer-driven databases have sprung up that allow you to look up and report side effects to prescription drugs. The FDA’s method of collecting and reporting side effects is slow and inefficient and relies mostly on doctors’ reports of patient complaints. Apparently doctors tend to report only “medically serious” complaints like nausea or abdominal pain, and consider things like sexual dysfunction to be not worth mentioning. On top of that, many people don’t even bother sharing side effects with their doctors, probably because they know the exchange will go like this:

Doctor: Any problem with the flurextrothimstim?
Patient: Yeah, my eyelashes started to fall out.
Doctor: Really? I’ve never heard of that! Give me a call in a few months and tell me if it’s still happening.

Only the rare practitioner will tell you that some Rx meds might worsen a condition or even cause brand new ones. Doctors’ knowledge about side effects of drugs they prescribe is often based solely on what their pharma sales rep has told them. Quite often the doctor has not accumulated enough patient input about the Rx to get an idea of its galaxy of effects.

Here are the three databases I know of. Let me know if there are others.

Adverse Events: The site owners have sorted through all the FDA reports and made them easier to find and understand. Here’s a Wall Street Journal article about it. Safety and recall warnings are also featured.

Crazy Meds: This focuses on psych meds and includes reports by users who’ve actually taken the drugs. The site features a discussion forum and you can leave comments on the webpages for each Rx drug they talk about. (Be warned that the founder is strongly against alternative medicine.) They do have a refreshing sense of humor. Here’s their intro:

“Welcome to Crazy Meds, where you can learn what’s good, what’s bad, what’s interesting, and what’s plain weird and funny about the medications used to treat depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, epilepsy, migraines, anxiety, neuropathic pain, or whatever psychiatric and/or neurological condition you might have.” This site was founded by “pharmaco-vigilance experts,” which sounds like they mean business. When you submit a side effect, you can print out a report to take to your doctor. I’m not sure what’s on the report — the incidence of similar reported effects, I’d hope. You can also look up your drug by side effect by going to the site’s Hair Zone, Skin and Nails Zone, Suicide Zone, Sex Zone, Violence Zone or Symptoms Upon Stopping Zone. Currently the site’s blog is discussing pre-pregnancy risks of SSRIs.

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