Every week, a front-page article warns us about a terrible side effect of a different medication. This can be especially frightening if you’re a parent, and your child’s medicine is suddenly on high-alert. So, what should you do when one of your child’s pills is on the news?
First, remind yourself that a report of potential side effect is not the same as a prediction of what will happen to your child. Most side effects happen to a tiny fraction of those on a medicine, so if you’re concerned, ask your doctor what your child’s risk is.
Second, remember that many medical reports are preliminary. Researchers often need to do more than one study before the truth becomes clear – but the media doesn’t always remind consumers of this fact.
Finally, if you understand some basic facts about your medicines, you will have a better grasp of how the latest news applies—or does not apply—to your child. When your doctor starts him or her on a new medicine, ask the questions below. If you know the answers, you will not be as worried when you see a new headline.
2. How likely is the medicine to work? (No treatment works for everybody.)
3. How will I know if the medicine is working? (If the medicine is not doing what it is supposed to do, your child will not want to tolerate potential adverse effects.)
4. What are the most common side effects with this medicine? How often do they happen? (If you see a news report about side effects, try to find the statistics.)
5. What alternatives are available if this medicine does not work or causes side effects? Are there are other pills to try? Are there operations that could help my child? Are there other treatments, such as physical therapy, that might accomplish the same objective? What will happen if he gets no treatment?
Remember that doctors do not have magic. All treatments have some risk. Although medical treatment increased life expectancy by thirty years during the 20th century, the decision to use any medical treatment always involves weighing the potential risks against the potential benefits. When you hear news about a potential side effect, the smartest thing you can do for you and your little one is not to panic. Rather, get your doctor to help you evaluate the new information, so you can make the wisest choice possible.
Dr. Brown is the author of Navigating the Medical Maze: A Practical Guide. He is a cardiologist in private practice, and is also a Clinical Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at Texas Tech University. He is a contributor to Chest, Circulation, and other health journals. For more information, please visit www.drstevenbrown.org.