- Drug Names
- Ask your doctor about potential side effects of a medicine.
- What are medicine side effects?
- What types of medicines can cause side effects?
- Where to get information on side effects
- Thinking about side effects
- How to get help if you have side effects
- Looking for more medicine information?
- MDMA (Ecstasy) Abuse
- Acute Effects
- Sub-acute Effects
- Effects of Regular MDMA Use
- Risk-taking in People who Use MDMA
- Drug Side Effects
- OTC Medicines: Know Your Risks and Reduce Them
- Path to improved health
- Things to consider
- Questions to ask your doctor
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Ask your doctor about potential side effects of a medicine.
What are medicine side effects?
Any unwanted or unexpected effects of a medicine are called side effects. They are also sometimes called adverse effects or adverse reactions.
Side effects can also include:
- interactions with other medicines or food
- the medicine not working well
Not all side effects are serious. Most are mild, although some medicines have serious side effects. These medicines are usually prescribed for serious health conditions.
You can often avoid side effects by taking the medicine exactly according to the instructions, for example after eating food, or at a certain time of the day.
What types of medicines can cause side effects?
All types of medicines can have side effects. This includes prescription medicines and over-the-counter medicines that you can buy from a pharmacy, supermarket or other shops. Vitamins and minerals can also have side effects, as can any herbal, complementary, alternative or natural medicine.
Even though all medicines can cause side effects, not everyone will get them.
Where to get information on side effects
For information about potential side effects, speak to your doctor or pharmacist.
Here are some questions you might want ask.
- What are the possible side effects of the medicine?
- How commonly do the side effects happen?
- Does the medicine have any serious side effects, and what’s the risk?
- What can I do to avoid or reduce the risk of side effects?
- Do the side effects get better with time?
- What should I do if I think I’m having a side effect?
You can also get information on side effects from the medicine’s Consumer Medicine Information (CMI) leaflet, which is available from your pharmacist for all prescription and some non-prescription medicines. You can also search for CMIs in healthdirect’s medicines section.
Thinking about side effects
If you are thinking about starting a new medicine, it is worth thinking about the side effects. How common are they? How serious are they? And what do they mean to you?
This is especially important if you have a serious health condition and the medicines might have serious side effects.
How to get help if you have side effects
If anything worries you after taking your medicine, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. You can also call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak to a registered nurse.
If you think you might be having a serious side effect, see your doctor or hospital immediately.
For life-threatening emergencies, call triple zero (000).
Looking for more medicine information?
healthdirect’s medicines section allows you to search for medicines by brand name or active ingredient. It provides useful information about medicines such as their use, whether they are available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and product recalls.
MDMA (Ecstasy) Abuse
A person may experience the intoxicating effects of MDMA within 45 minutes or so after taking a single dose. Those effects include an enhanced sense of well-being,28,53 increased extroversion,27,53 emotional warmth, empathy toward others,54 and a willingness to discuss emotionally-charged memories.55 In addition, people report enhanced sensory perception as a hallmark of the MDMA experience.27,28
Use of even moderate doses of MDMA in crowded, warm environments—or during periods of vigorous, extended physical activity—can dramatically increase body temperature, with potential deadly consequences.
However, MDMA can also cause a number of acute adverse health effects. For example, while fatal overdoses on MDMA are rare, they can potentially be life threatening—with symptoms including high blood pressure (hypertension), faintness,8,56 panic attacks,57 and in severe cases, a loss of consciousness and seizures.58
Because of its stimulant properties and the situations in which it is often taken, MDMA is associated with vigorous physical activity for extended periods in warm environments. This can lead to one of the most significant, although rare, acute adverse effects—a marked rise in body temperature (hyperthermia).59–61 Research in rats shows that even moderate doses of MDMA interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature, potentially leading to deadly consequences in warm environments.6 Treatment of hyperthermia requires prompt medical attention, as it can rapidly lead to muscle breakdown or an electrolyte (sodium) imbalance, which can in turn produce kidney failure9 or fatal swelling of the brain, especially in women.62 MDMA use in combination with vigorous exercise causes dehydration,56,57 leading some people to drink large amounts of liquids. However, this could increase the risk of electrolyte imbalance or brain swelling because MDMA causes the body to retain water.63,64 One modest dose of MDMA can also reduce the pumping efficiency of the heart in people who use regularly,65 which is of particular concern during periods of increased physical activity.
MDMA can also produce other adverse health effects, including involuntary jaw clenching,53 lack of appetite,28,53 mild detachment from oneself (depersonalization), illogical or disorganized thoughts, restless legs,28 nausea,56,57,66 hot flashes or chills,8,56 headache, sweating,8,57 and muscle or joint stiffness.66
In the hours after taking the drug, MDMA produces significant reductions in perceiving and predicting motion—for example, the ability to judge whether a driver is in danger of colliding with another car. This emphasizes the potential dangers of performing complex or skilled activities, such as driving a car, while under the influence of this drug.67
Once MDMA is metabolized, or broken down in the body, its byproducts interfere with the body’s ability to metabolize MDMA.68 As a result, additional doses of MDMA can produce unexpectedly high blood levels, which could worsen the toxic effects of this drug.69 In addition, combining MDMA with other substances, such as caffeine,70 amphetamines,71 the amphetamine-like mephedrone,72 marijuana,73 or alcohol,74,75 may increase the risk of adverse health effects associated with MDMA.29
Recreational use of MDMA is often characterized by repeated drug taking over a number of days (binges), followed by periods of no drug taking. In one animal study, this pattern of use produced irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and heart damage.76 In the week following use of the drug, many people report depression, impaired attention and memory,77–79 anxiety, aggression,80 and irritability.78
Effects of Regular MDMA Use
Sleep disturbances, lack of appetite, concentration difficulties, depression,79 heart disease,81,82 and impulsivity83 have been associated with regular use of MDMA. In addition, heavy MDMA use over a 2-year period of time is associated with decreased cognitive function.84 Some of these disturbances may not be directly attributable to MDMA, but may be related to some of the other drugs often used in combination with MDMA, such as cocaine, alcohol, or marijuana, or to adulterants commonly found in MDMA tablets. More research is needed to understand the specific effects of regular MDMA use.
Risk-taking in People who Use MDMA
Various studies have found that MDMA use is associated with risky sexual behaviors. For example, both males and females who use MDMA are more likely than alcohol-drinking controls to engage in risky sexual behaviors (e.g., without a condom).85 MDMA use within the past 6 months is associated with initiating sex before age 14 and having two or more partners in the past 2 months.86 In addition, people who use heavily report more sexual risk taking than those who use less often. People who use heavily are also more likely to have been tested for HIV, though they believe they are at low risk for contracting the disease.87
Homosexuals and bisexuals who use MDMA, both male and female, reported more sexual partners and more injection drug use—but did not have higher rates of unprotected sex and needle sharing—compared to heterosexuals who use MDMA.88
If you take more than the recommended dose, you could overdose. Call an ambulance straight away by dialling triple zero (000) if you have any of these symptoms (ambulance officers don’t need to involve the police):
- confusion and disorientation
- anxiety and paranoia
- anaemia (low red blood cell count)
- vomiting blood that may look like coffee grounds and bowel motions that look like black tar
- severe allergic reaction, including swelling of the face
- kidney and liver problems
- coma and death.1
It’s best to discuss the side effects of long term use with a medical practitioner. Regular use of ibuprofen may eventually cause:
- kidney and liver damage
- bleeding in the stomach and bowels
- increased risk of heart attack.1
Using ibuprofen with other drugs
The effects of taking ibuprofen with other drugs, including alcohol, prescription medications and other over-the-counter medicines, are often unpredictable.
Ibuprofen taken with alcohol can increase the risk of stomach irritation and discomfort.1
Ibuprofen can alter the effects of some blood pressure medicines and may increase the risk of bleeding if taken with medicines such as warfarin.1
Drug Side Effects
A + D Cracked Skin Relief → Acid Reducer Acid Reducer Maximum Strength → Advil Cold and Sinus Advil Cold and Sinus Liqui-Gels → Aldoril 15 Aldoril 25 → Allopurinol / lesinurad Allpanto-S → Aminolevulinic acid Aminolevulinic acid topical → Anthrax vaccine adsorbed Anti-D Immunoglobulin → Armour Thyroid Arnuity Ellipta → Avage Avail Calcium Intensive → Azurette
B & O Supprettes → Beechams Veno’s for Kids Chesty Cough BeeGentle → Betaxon Bethanechol → BP Cleansing Lotion BP Foaming Wash → Bunavail Bupap → Byvalson
C Phen → Capreomycin Capromab pendetide → Ceclor CD Ceclor Pulvules → Cetraxal Cetrorelix → Chlortox Chlorzoxazone → Cleviprex Clexane → Colidrops Colief → Cortaid Cortaid Intensive Therapy → Cyproheptadine Cyramza → Cytuss HC
D 1000 IU → Deconsal DM Tannate Deconsal II → Dermarest Psoriasis Skin Treatment Dermarest Rosacea → Dextromethorphan / phenylephrine / thonzylamine Dextromethorphan / phenylephrine / triprolidine → Dimetapp Toddler’s Drops Decongestant Plus Cough Dimethicone / zinc oxide topical → Doral Doravirine → Durable Barr Durabolin → Dyzbac
E Pherol → Emicizumab Eminase → Equi-Cyte F Equi-Natal Care → Evekeo ODT Evenity → Ezol
FA-8 → Fiber Therapy Fiberall → Flutex Fluticasone → Fyavolv Fycompa → Fycompa
G Bid → GenTeal Twin Pack Gentex 30 → GP 500 Grafco Silver Nitrate → Gynovite
H 9600 SR → Hiberix Hibiclens → Hydrocodone CP Hydrocodone GF → Hyzine
I-Fol Plus → Inova Inova 4 / 1 → Isopto Frin Isopto Homatropine → Izba
J-Max → Jynarque
K + Potassium → Klor-Con Sprinkle Klor-Con / 25 → Kytril
L Thyroxine Roche → Levemir Levetiracetam → Liquituss R-DM Liquitussin HC Syrup → Lucidex Lucinactant → Lyza
M O S → Maxichlor PEH Maxichlor PEH DM → Mentax Menthac Arthritis Cream with Capsaicin → MicRhoGAM Ultra-Filtered Plus Micro-Guard → Mononessa Mononine → Mycelex Troche Mycelex-3 → MZM
N Ice → Nebcin Pediatric Nebivolol → Nexa Select with DHA Nexafed Nasal Decongestant → Noroxin Norpace → Nytol QuickCaps
OTC Medicines: Know Your Risks and Reduce Them
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are those you can buy at the store. You don’t need a prescription from your doctor. They help you feel better by treating or preventing common health problems. These could include allergies, constipation, cold and flu, or nausea. But sometimes OTC medicines can cause unpleasant effects. These are called adverse effects. They include:
- side effects
- drug-drug interactions
- food-drug interactions
- allergic reactions
It is best to be aware of the risks of OTC medicines so you know how to avoid them.
Side effects are effects that medicines have on your body that don’t help your symptoms. Most side effects are unpleasant. A few examples are nausea, dizziness, or bleeding in your digestive tract. Sometimes, side effects can be useful. For example, certain antihistamines can cause sleepiness. This might be bad for people who take antihistamines during the day. But if you’re taking an antihistamine at nighttime, this side effect might help you get the sleep you need. Side effects are not the same thing as true drug allergies. Those are much less common.
The body processes every medicine differently. When medicines are used together, the ways they affect the body can change. This is called a drug-drug interaction. It happens whether they are prescription or OTC medicines. It can increase the chance that you will have side effects from medicines you are taking. The main interaction types are:
- Duplication: This is when you take 2 medicines that have similar active ingredients. It can give you more medicine than you need. An example is when you take OTC ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) plus a prescription anti-inflammatory medicine. Too much of either an anti-inflammatory or pain reliever can hurt your kidneys or liver.
- Opposition: Medicines with active ingredients that have opposite effects on your body can interact. This may reduce the effectiveness of 1 or both medicines. For example, OTC decongestants may raise your blood pressure. This can work against (cause opposition to) medicines that lower your blood pressure.
- Alteration: One medicine may change the way your body absorbs, spreads, or processes another medicine. For example, aspirin can change the way some prescription blood-thinning medicines work.
If you see more than 1 doctor, tell each of them about the medicines you take. Do this even if you take something for just a short time. Include any herbal supplements, vitamins, and minerals you take. Once a year, take all of your medicines and supplements with you when you see your doctor. You should also do this if your medications change at any time.
Food may change how your body processes some OTC or prescription medicines. This is called a drug-food (or drug-nutrient) interaction. Sometimes what you eat and drink can affect the ingredients in a medicine you’re taking. This can prevent the medicine from working the way it should. For example, medicines taken by mouth are usually absorbed through the lining of the stomach. The nutrients from the food you eat are also absorbed this way. If you take a medicine with food but the directions say not to, your body might not be able to absorb the medicine the right way.
Food does not affect all OTC medicines. But what you eat and when you eat it does matter with some medicines. This is why some medicines should be taken on an empty stomach. That means 1 hour before or 2 hours after eating. At the same time, some medicines are processed better when you take them with food.
Read the drug facts label carefully. See if you should take your medicine with food or on an empty stomach. If the label doesn’t give specific instructions, it probably doesn’t matter when you take it. If you have any questions, ask your family doctor or pharmacist. They can also warn you about possible interactions with your prescription medicines.
It’s not common, but some people are allergic to certain medicines. Signs of an allergic reaction include itching, hives, and breathing problems. If you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine, avoid medicines that contain the same ingredients. Call your doctor right away if you think you’re having an allergic reaction. Keep in mind that side effects are not true allergic reactions.
Path to improved health
Certain situations put you at higher risk for adverse effects. The possible adverse effects differ from 1 OTC medicine to another. So it’s best to carefully read the drug facts label of any OTC medicine. Then you will know what to expect.
Here are some more tips to help you avoid adverse effects.
- Try to limit how often you use OTC medicines. Don’t use them unless you really need them.
- If you take any prescription medicines, ask your doctor before taking an OTC medicine.
- Read the drug facts label on the medicine carefully. Make sure you know what ingredients the medicine contains. Also make sure you understand any warnings or possible adverse effects.
- If you don’t understand something about the medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
- Take the medicine just as your doctor or the drug facts label instructs. Don’t take a higher dose of the medicine than recommended. Don’t take the medicine more frequently than the label says. Don’t take it for a longer period of time than recommended.
- When giving medicine to children, use the correct measuring device to make sure they get the right amount. This could be a spoon made for measuring medicine, or a syringe or cup.
- Don’t take capsules apart or stir medicine into your food unless your doctor says it’s okay. This may change the way the medicine works.
- Don’t take medicine with alcoholic drinks.
- Don’t mix medicine into hot drinks unless the label tells you to. The heat may keep the medicine from working as it should.
- Don’t take vitamin pills at the same time you take medicine. Vitamins and minerals can cause problems if taken with some medicines.
- Keep track of any allergies and adverse reactions you have had to OTC medicines in the past. Avoid medicines that contain the same ingredients.
- Check drug facts labels and avoid taking medicines that contain the same active ingredients at the same time. This can help you avoid taking too much of a certain medicine.
- Remember that even if you took a medicine in the past with no problems, you could still have a reaction when you take it now.
Things to consider
Healthy adults who use OTC medicines occasionally and properly have a low risk of adverse effects. However, some people are at greater risk. These include very young children, older adults, and people taking more than 1 type of medicine. People who have the following conditions are also at a higher risk:
- bleeding disorders
- blood clotting disorders
- breathing problems
- enlarged prostate gland
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- immune system problems
- kidney problems
- liver problems
- Parkinson’s disease
- psychiatric problems
- thyroid problems
These conditions put some people at greater risk. But anyone can experience an adverse effect from an OTC medicine.
How will I know if I’m experiencing an adverse effect?
Anytime you take medicine, be aware of changes in your body and how you feel. A certain symptom may be caused by your illness. Or it may be an adverse effect from your medicine. It may be hard to know the difference. Tell your family doctor when the symptom started. Tell them if it is different from other symptoms you have had.
Are older adults at increased risk for adverse effects?
Older adults often use many medicines at the same time. This often includes both prescription and OTC medicines. Their bodies process medicines differently than younger adults. This is why they need to pay careful attention to drug-drug interactions. If you are an older adult, talk with your doctor about all of the medicines you take. This includes OTC medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements. Your doctor can tell you whether you are at risk of having an adverse effect from taking an OTC medicine.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What are the interactions between the medicines I take?
- Should I take any of my medicines with food or on an empty stomach?
- Do I need to tell my doctor about the vitamins I take regularly?
- Should I tell my doctor every time I take a new over-the-counter medicine?
- What kinds of symptoms should I look out for that could mean I’m having an adverse reaction to my OTC medicine?
- Is my symptom a side effect or a true allergic reaction to a medicine?