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What are the side effects of medications?

Discuss any side effects with your doctor

People respond differently to medications.  A medication that works well for you may not work for someone else, and vice versa.  Your doctor can work with you to decrease any negative side effects of the medications.  Side effects of your medications may include things like weight gain, shaking, getting tired, or movements of your tongue or mouth that you cannot control.

Be sure to write down any side effects of your medications.  Bring this list with you when you see your doctor.  Show your doctor the list and discuss what you are experiencing with him or her.

How to manage side effects that may be bothering you

Many side effects may be annoying, but are not serious.  Sometimes people think they should stop their medicine if they get a side effect, but this is not true in many cases. Always talk to your doctor if you think you are having side effects with your medicine. More common side effects are listed below, with some suggestions for how to manage them.

Common side effects

Blurry Vision

If your vision is blurred, contact your doctor right away. He may want to adjust your dosage or give you a different medicine.

Dizziness

If you sit up or stand up too quickly, you may become dizzy. To prevent dizziness, rise slowly.  If you are lying on your bed, first put your feet over the edge of the bed, and then sit up slowly. Wait a moment before standing up. This side effect usually improves as you continue with your treatment.

Drowsiness

Your pills may make you feel tired. You may want to see how your medicine changes you before you do any activity that requires you to be alert.  You might want to start your medicine on a day that you are going to be at home, just to see how you react to it.  This side effect usually only last a short time, so you may not always feel this tired.

Dry Mouth

If your mouth feels dry, suck on sugar-free, hard or sour candy.  Chewing sugarless gum or sipping water may also help.

Restlessness

You may feel like you have to keep moving and it is hard to sit still.  This can be managed with other medicines.  Be sure to tell your doctor if this side effect is bothering you.

Sexual difficulties

If you think you may be having any sexual problems from your pills, tell your doctor.

Skin rash

Skin rash may be caused by an allergy you may have to the medicine.  If you get a skin rash, especially a painful one, call your doctor immediately.

Slowed body movements

People who have this side effect may feel tightness in their muscles, and may walk with short steps and not be able to swing their arms naturally.  They may have a tremor in their hands or walk slowly.  If you feel any of these symptoms, tell your doctor, who may want to adjust your dosage or change your medicine.

Feeling slowed down

Some people describe this side effect as "feeling like a zombie."  If this side effect happens to you, tell your doctor.  Your doctor may want to adjust your dosage or prescribe another medicine to relieve this side effect.  

Sunburn

Some medicines can make you more sensitive to the sun.  Wear clothing and use a sunscreen to protect skin that is not covered even if you plan to stay in the shade. 

Difficulty urinating

You may have the urge to pass urine but may not be able to.  If you have this problem, tell your doctor as soon as possible. 

Weight gain

Some people may gain weight after several weeks or months of treatment.  If you start to gain weight, ask your doctor to recommend a low-calorie diet.

Also, exercise often to avoid gaining weight.  But be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

More Serious side effects

The following side effects can be serious, but not many people get them.  It is important to know about them so that you will know what to do if you have them.

If you have ever had any of these side effects, be sure to tell your doctor and the other members of your treatment team.  Also keep in mind that your medicine may not cause any of the side effects listed in this section.  Check with your doctor to find out which side effects may occur with the medicine you are taking.

Low white blood cell count (agranulocytosis)

Agranulocytosis means low white blood cell count.  Without enough white blood cells, your body may not be able to fight infection.  Since this side effect can be dangerous, be sure to report high fevers and painful sore throats to your doctor as soon as possible.

Involuntary muscle movements

This side effect, known as tardive dyskinesia, usually occurs after months or years of taking antipsychotic medicine.  It is serious and can cause involuntary movements of the tongue and mouth (for example, chewing and sucking motions), lip smacking, and sometimes the arms and legs can be affected.  Tell your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms.

Overheating (Hyperthermia)

Some medicines can cause you to get overheated, especially in hot weather.  Drinking plenty of water can help you avoid getting overheated.

Neuroleptic malignant syndrome

This is a rare but very serious side effect.  Muscles get very stiff over one to three days, a high fever develops, and you may feel very confused.  If you start to feel these symptoms, get medical help immediately.  Go to the emergency room if you cannot reach your doctor.

Seizures

Some medicines make people more prone to having seizures.  If you do have a seizure, get medical help immediately.

Uncontrolled muscle spasms (Dystonia)

This side effect feels like a charley horse or writer's cramp.  It may start with a neck spasm that leads to a stiff neck and stiff tongue.  The eye muscles may be involved, causing the eyes to roll up and back.  If you have this side effect, call your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room.  Your doctor can prescribe another medication to prevent this reaction from occurring again.

“If I feel this good, I must not need the medications anymore.”

People often think that they can stop taking their medications because they feel better.  It is important to remember that taking the medications is a big part of what keeps you well.  In fact, stopping your medications often leads to you getting sick again.

Think about how things are at work and home for you when you are on medication.  Now think about how things are when you are not on medication.  When you are taking your medication, you will have fewer problems at work, get along better with your family and stay out of the hospital longer.  This may be reason enough to stay on the medications.

Sometimes medications are prescribed to control or reduce a side effect caused by another medication.  This is especially true when older anti-psychotics are being used.  Although these medications can provide good results they all come with some risks.  The doctor must sometimes balance the positive effects of the medication against any possible harm it might cause.  Everyone responds differently to different medicines, so several may be tried to see which is the most helpful with the fewest side effects.