Question: Why are some of the drugs that are advertised causing more problems when they are supposed to help?

Before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was formed, people were ingesting foods and drugs that had no research or benefits connected to them. I remember watching the old Western movies when the snake oil peddler grifted a town’s population based on some dubious research.

It was commonplace for someone with questionable credentials to go around selling stuff because it was marketable. Whoever heard of the cure for baldness? Well, apparently snake oil can help with baldness, too. Anyway, the point of this question is why are their so many side effects?

Some patients laugh when they tell me the list of potential side effects that are repeated on television commercials, which are scarier than the actual disease that is treated. Recently a study revealed a rare adverse effect of bisphosphonates causing thigh fractures. Another reported that Avandia increased risk of heart disease. This is surprising, given the fact the drugs are supposed to help decrease those risks.

An important subject to always discuss with your doctor is common side effects and rare adverse effects of medications. A doctor helps not only to diagnose and treat diseases, but also to protect you from dangers of drug side effects.

If you are taking more than five medications, you are at higher risk of drug interaction and unwanted side effects. Some side effects are actually called diseases as well — delirium, hypotension and Parkinson’s disease. The disease resolves then if we discontinue the offending drug.

If I prescribe a new drug that I have a sample of, the patient and I will go over the drug information sheet. It is a large sheet of paper with very small fine print. If you know what to look for, you will see the percentage of people in the original study that had which side effect compared with a placebo group. I find that going over side effects with my patients will educate them, thereby improving compliance to medication therapy.

A lot of patients are surprised to see that some portion of patients in the placebo group also complained of side effects. Side effects exist throughout our diet. A fatty meal decreases the lower esophageal sphincter, thereby allowing stomach acid to splash up into the esophagus, causing reflux disease. Milk can cause harder stools, spicy foods can cause diarrhea, etc.

A doctor can help you weigh the risks versus the benefits in most medications. Make an appointment today if you are taking a lot of medications and have questions.

If you have any questions, please don’t be a stranger, send questions to

Dr. Justus Turner Peters, a family physician at Glen Rose Medical Center's Pecan Plantation clinic, received his medical school training at Creighton University School of Medicine in Nebraska and completed his family medicine residency at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. Board Certified in Family Medicine, Dr. Peters’ practice encompasses the care of infants and children as well as adults of all ages. He also conducts ongoing research in the areas of childhood obesity and lower extremity injuries.