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Is Google Censoring Drug Side Effect Information?

Many health websites have been buried by a new Google algorithm update. Search is fruitless. We provide drug side effect information. Why can't you find it?
Is Google Censoring Drug Side Effect Information?
Mountain View, California, USA – August 13, 2018: Google logo isolated from a Google headquarters sign. Google technology leader in internet services, online advertising, search engine, cloud storage.

Google dominates web searches. If you want to know something, you “Google it.” That is especially true for health information in general and drug side effect information in particular. We wonder whether Google is now suppressing websites like ours that provide independent and objective drug side effect information.

Google’s New Search Algorithm:

Google recently modified its “algorithm” for search. That means it changed the way it ranks websites. Many health sites have seen a dramatic drop in traffic. The People’s Pharmacy is one of them. Over the last month our traffic is down over 50% thanks to Google’s 2019 Core Update.

Is The People’s Pharmacy Being Buried by Google?

In theory, Google is supposed to reward websites that provide reliable health information based on something called E-A-T. That stands for expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. The People’s Pharmacy has been providing that kind of drug side effect information long before there was an Internet.

How The People’s Pharmacy Got Started:

A book called The People’s Pharmacy was Number 1 on the New York Times best seller list four decades ago. It stayed on the list for months.

That was because we provided drug side effect information that had never before been available to the public. We also included warnings about dangerous drug interactions. The success of that book led to a nationally syndicated newspaper column (distributed by King Features) and an award-winning nationally syndicated public radio show heard on many NPR stations.

Since then, we have written more than 20 other books. You can read about our credentials, awards and values at this link.

What We Do:

For more than 40 years we have been trying to provide accurate, objective and trustworthy information about both over-the-counter drugs and prescription medications. Most of the websites that offer drug information list adverse reactions that are found in the official prescribing information provided by pharmaceutical companies. We dig much deeper.

We provide drug side effect information and interaction warnings that many other websites never mention. We also offer context and a deeper understanding of the consequences of adverse drug reactions. Here are some examples:

Lisinopril Cough and Angioedema:

Every website that offers drug side effect information will include cough with the popular blood pressure medication lisinopril. It’s often buried in the middle of dozens of other side effects under a category called “Less Common.” Equally uninformative is the listing “difficulty breathing.”

On our website you will discover an in-depth analysis of ACE inhibitor cough that makes it clear this is not an uncommon complication (Chest Jan. 2006). You will also learn about a life-threatening reaction called angioedema that can affect the digestive tract as well as the lips, mouth and throat. 

Making Drug Side Effect Information Real:

Many standard drug information websites list dozens of side effects for each medication. Most people have no way to make sense of these lists. There is no context. After reading 10 or 20 potential adverse reactions most people zone out.

One of the things that differentiates www.PeoplesPharmacy.com from most other websites are the stories from readers. This, more than anything else, allows visitors to understand the symptoms that people experience.

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These personal accounts make adverse reactions understandable. Here is an article that used to be highly ranked by Google. People searching lisinopril side effects could find it easily. Now, this article has virtually disappeared from Google searches.

Lisinopril Side Effects Can Be Life Threatening: Beware Angioedema and ACE Inhibitors!

An example of one reader’s scary story:

To better understand angioedema, here is an account from a reader. It is far more memorable than “difficulty breathing” buried in a list of 34 other possible side effects:

“My doctor prescribed lisinopril for me about ten years ago. I took it without being aware of any side effects. However, I’ve had a booming cough – what my husband used to call a ‘demon cough’ because of the way it sounded – for a number of years.

“In addition, I had several instances of throat, tongue and lip swelling that resulted in trips to the ER from work. I chalked those up to food allergies, while doctors blamed another drug, nifedipine. As it turned out, neither had anything to do with it.

“One day I had just arrived home from work when I felt that familiar itchy tickle in the back of my throat. I drank water at first, thinking it would go away, but it got progressively worse and I noticed some swelling. I went straight to the ER, and it was a decision that saved my life.

“On the ride to the hospital, I could feel the swelling getting worse. It became hard to talk and harder to breathe. We made it to the ER, and I remember digging out my wallet for my insurance card and ID to check in. That’s about all I remember.

“Next, I stopped breathing, as I learned much later. The ER nurses and doctors rushed to sedate me as they tried to perform a tracheotomy, with no success. They only had about two minutes before my brain started shutting down, starved of oxygen, so they decided to perform an intubation instead. THAT was successful.

“However, I was in a coma for close to three weeks, During that time the prognosis for my recovery was doubtful at best. Several doctors even told my husband that he might have ‘some hard decisions to make’ if I suffered irreparable brain damage. 

“Because the hospital we went to wasn’t adequately set up for my care, they moved me to a different one. Once there, while in ICU, I coded twice and they had to shock me with paddles to get my heart started again. My prognosis looked even worse at that time. I had a 50/50 chance of making it or not.

“Somehow, I came back. The doctors were stunned. Slowly and surely, they came to realize I was going to recover with most of my faculties still intact. They did tests, and the tests confirmed it.

“Moving, speaking, thinking, everything was like having to drag myself through a vat of molasses. But I had daily PT and cognitive therapy to make sure I stayed on the right track. My hubby stayed with me the entire time, as much as he could.

“Eventually I was released into an acute care facility. Needless to say, I was more than happy when they finally released me, not needing as much assistance as before for daily things like bathing, brushing my teeth or using the bathroom.

“Today, I still have to alternate between a walker, a wheelchair and a Rollator. I’m steadier on my feet, but still have to work through the effects of muscle atrophy that took place while I was in my coma. 

“If you take nothing else from my story, please consider this: if you are on lisinopril, ask your doctor about side effects. They might be too risky, as I discovered. Be an advocate for yourself and pay attention to the potential side effects of any medicines you take. I wish I had done so before my violent reaction.”

Why We Do What We Do:

This story is just one reason that we continue to write articles for www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. If we can prevent serious adverse reactions by providing drug side effect information that is understandable and reliable, then we have accomplished our mission. Below, you will find just a few examples of some of our posts about side effects.

Prednisone Side Effects:

One of our most visited articles was titled:

Prednisone Side Effects: Deal with the Devil?

Historically, it came up on the first page of a search for “prednisone side effects.” 466 people rated its quality 4.4 out of a possible 5 stars. There are over 1,000 comments associated with this post.

In this article, we point out that many people must take prednisone for conditions such as severe allergic reactions, optic neuritis or multiple sclerosis. Oncologists may prescribe prednisone to treat certain types of cancer. In these cases, prednisone may be life saving. In addition, however, we share some of the drug’s more worrisome side effects along with readers’ experiences with this corticosteroid.

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If you put “prednisone side effects” into a Google search now, you will discover that this People’s Pharmacy article has virtually disappeared. Anyone looking for this in-depth information from us will most likely be unsuccessful unless they know to include the full title of our post.

Gabapentin Side Effects:

Another highly ranked article from The People’s Pharmacy was:

Surprising Gabapentin Side Effects

It has 830 comments from visitors. At last count 10 million Americans take either gabapentin or its chemical cousin, pregabalin (Lyrica). These drugs are increasingly being prescribed for pain.

In this article, not only do we discuss side effects like fatigue, dizziness, confusion, depression and fuzzy thinking, but we provide in-depth information on withdrawal symptoms. This so-called “discontinuation syndrome” can be extremely serious. Few drug information websites provide the kind of investigative research on withdrawal reactions that we have.

What About Withdrawal?

The People’s Pharmacy has been alerting the public to withdrawal reactions for decades. This is not something drug companies are anxious to study. Even the FDA has been slow to pick up on this problem.

Here are just a few of our once highly-ranked articles:

Tramadol Side Effects and Withdrawal Are Daunting

Duloxetine (Cymbalta) Side Effects & Withdrawal

Zyrtec Withdrawal Is a Nightmare

We Aren’t the only Independent Website Affected by Google’s “Core Update:”

Another website, MedShadow.org, has also seen its traffic drop like a rock. The goals of this website:

Mission:

“To help people understand the risks & benefits of medicines.”

Vision:

“Protect lives and preserve quality of life by increasing awareness of the potential side effects of medicine.”

Here is what the people at MedShadow are asking:

Why Has MedShadow Disappeared from Google Search?” 

“On June 4, 2019 our site traffic dropped from 13,029 visits a day to 6,301… in one day. It has not recovered. We discovered that Google changed their search algorithm to deliberately suppress sites they didn’t consider credible and we fell into that category. We applaud Google’s attempts to stop the flood of miracle cure pills, get rich quick schemes and gamble your life away sites. But they’ve missed the target when they suppressed MedShadow. We aren’t one of the bad guys.

“We have reached out to Google to ask them why they’ve suppressed MedShadow’s standing. But Google has not responded”

“We would like Google to recognize that MedShadow is one of the few health journalism sites that refuses pharmaceutical and medical device advertising or support.”

Home Remedies, Herbs and Dietary Supplements?

Another reason our People’s Pharmacy web traffic is down so precipitously might be because we also write about home remedies, herbs and dietary supplements. The new Google search algorithm appears to discourage such information. It has certainly made it much harder for people to find us on the web.

We have been writing responsibly about home remedies for 40 years. We seek scientific documentation for such “alternative” approaches whenever it is available. And we always acknowledge when science is lacking. There is a surprising amount of well-conducted research to support herbal approaches to common ailments

What You Can Do to Help Support The People’s Pharmacy:

Because traffic to our website is down dramatically since the latest Google algorithm change has taken effect, we need your help to keep providing the kind of quality information you have come to rely on. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Whenever you read something interesting at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com please share it with friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances via email or social media. Please encourage them to sign up for our free newsletter.
  2. If you listen to our podcasts, please share these links with family, friends and anyone you think might be interested. Encourage them to also sign up for the free newsletter and our podcast. If you like our award-winning nationally syndicated radio show, please rate and review it in iTunes. When you do this, it raises our profile on iTunes and helps broaden our audience.
  3. Follow us on social media. We have active communities on both Facebook and Twitter.
  4. Choose to browse ad free. We wish we did not have to have any ads on www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. We have a new opportunity for you to help us along this path. You can go ad free by making a small monthly contribution at this link. As soon as you subscribe to our ad-free site you will get a clean and streamlined reading experience. If enough people subscribe, we may eventually be able to eliminate website ads for everyone.
  5. Become a People’s Pharmacy Partner. We strive to provide you with practical information that helps you make informed decisions about your health. Whether it’s drug side effect information you won’t read about anywhere else, dangerous drug interactions, generic drug misadventures or home remedies, we need your help to keep this effort going. You can make a one time or recurring donation at this link

Thank You for Supporting The People’s Pharmacy:

We are grateful for your loyalty and support. We think of The People’s Pharmacy as a community of people who care for one another’s well being. We could not manage this website without comments, stories and suggestions from our readers. We hope you will help us keep www.PeoplesPharmacy.com going strong for years to come.

Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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