Would you take a medicine that listed death as a possible side effect? Lots of people do.
Have You Read the Fine Print?
If you read drug ads in popular magazines, you might end up wondering who would ever beg a doctor for a prescription.
Abilify for Depression:
Abilify is a case in point. This drug was originally approved to treat schizophrenia but is now being advertised aggressively for bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness). One ad promotes the drug for managing mood swings and implies that Abilify might help you “feel more like yourself.”
That sounds appealing, but read on and you learn that elderly dementia patients who take Abilify are at increased risk of death “when compared to patients who are treated with a placebo (sugar pill).”
Not elderly, you say? Another side effect is rare but potentially fatal: neuroleptic malignant syndrome, characterized by “very high fever, rigid muscles, shaking, confusion, sweating, or increased heart rate and blood pressure.”
Abilify can also cause headache, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, constipation, dizziness, restlessness, high blood sugar, seizures, uncontrollable facial movements and suicidal thoughts.
Chantix to Stop Smoking:
Speaking of suicidal thoughts, a widely advertised stop-smoking medicine also comes with such a warning. Chantix commercials feature a tortoise and a hare with the slogan, “It’s all about getting there.” There is a brief mention of side effects including “nausea, trouble sleeping, changes in dreaming, constipation, gas and vomiting.”
You might be willing to risk such a side effect; they all sound like a small price to pay for help quitting smoking. But read the official prescribing information and you will discover that Chantix has been linked to diarrhea, headache, high blood pressure, changes in the sense of taste, nosebleeds, sweating, chest pain, muscle cramps and pain, dizziness, anxiety, irritability and depression.
Does Chantix Trigger Depression and Suicidal Thoughts?
Most people find such a list of side effects overwhelming and tend to stop reading before they reach the end. Such symptoms may seem abstract until someone like Pam shares her story:
“I started taking Chantix three and a half weeks ago. At first I felt great and stopped smoking after the first five days. The vivid, crazy dreams were even kind of fun, but now I am so depressed I can barely get up in the morning… All I want to do is sleep and cry. I thought about killing myself yesterday… The nausea, stomach pain and constipation are so bad it’s been a chore to function. I have never suffered from depression in my life, so I was kind of blind-sided by all this.
“I didn’t associate any of this with Chantix. My mother mentioned that there were some horrible side effects associated with Chantix that she just heard about on the news today.”
Having read similar posts on our Web site, Pam feels relieved to know she is not alone.
The point here is not that Chantix is a bad drug. Smoking puts health at risk, and helping people quit is valuable.
What Should You Do?
All medications have risks, however. Even rare side effects do happen. Whether the medicine is Abilify, Chantix or any other prescribed medication, take a few minutes to read the small print. You might discover that a medication you take to relieve arthritis pain could cause a life-threatening bleeding ulcer or even lead to a heart attack. Without meaning to, your doctor might prescribe a drug that could trigger a potentially fatal heart rhythm disruption.
Being well informed about risks and side effects could save your life. Be sure to check with the prescriber and the pharmacist about possible serious side effects. Don’t stop there, however. Track down the prescribing information online, read it and ask your healthcare provider for help understanding it if you find something alarming.