The 411 on Side Effects – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck

This afternoon, I went to an event for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. It was inspiring to be able to talk to other people – many of them young people – who are living with chronic autoimmune conditions, and doing it as best they can.

However, a common thread that I notice in talking with people is this: it doesn’t matter which disease you have – sometimes, the side effects from treatments can be just as bad as the condition itself!

It does not matter how “good” a drug is or how amazingly the medication works for you. It has nothing to do with quality, either. Side effects are just a fact of life when you are living with chronic illness.

In some cases, side effects can be a positive thing, meaning that they can be a sign that the drug is doing its job. (In other words, it is working!) In other cases, though, people will suffer adverse reactions just because their own body may be sensitive to the drug. I may experience a side effect to my medicine whereas you do not, and vice versa.

You may get to a point where you, essentially, have to choose the lesser of two evils. Of course, your medications are not by any means “evil,” but what I am saying is, sometimes you may have to weigh whether the relief you get from the drug outweighs the adverse side effects. If you suffer too many side effects from one specific medication, it may be time to consult your doctor about switching your treatment or dosage. Or, in some cases, there are other meds, vitamins/supplements/etc., or remedies that you can be given to help diminish or counteract the side effects.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide if the side effects are worth it or not. If your medication is doing its job, the side effects may just be a small nuisance or annoyance on your path to healing. However, some side effects are life-altering and/or greatly upsetting to the patient: weight gain, sun sensitivity, allergic reactions, hair loss, fevers, mood swings, heart palpitations, insomnia, susceptibility to infection, etc. Some side effects are even dangerous, including anaphylactic shock, kidney problems, pregnancy risks, elevated risk for cancer, even death.

However, there are regulations in place to mandate that these drugs do have benefits and that the risk of serious side effects/complications is relatively low – the doctors wouldn’t prescribe them otherwise. An empowered patient needs to educate themselves on all of the side effects of the drug – both imminent and potential – and the said patient needs to make a decision, weighing all of the options.

Remember that side effects can be secondary or adverse. They may be harmless or they may be a challenge. They are any effects from a treatment that are not necessarily bad but are just effects other than those intended. Sometimes, the discovery of these secondary effects can actually lead to the drug being used to treat multiple ailments, as the doctors and researchers discover new uses for it. In this case, side effects have a positive role. The term side effects is usually used to talk about the negative effects of a drug, but, it can also be used to describe these beneficial – albeit, unintended – consequences of the medication.

Side effects that are common for typical RA medications include fatigue, hair loss, weight gain, nausea, infection, mood swings, trouble sleeping, a suppressed immune system, and fevers. Other medications can make you dizzy, produce headaches, increase blood pressure, decrease or increase sexual drive, or cause constipation, shakiness, rashes, blisters, weight loss, and so forth. The list of potential side effects is immense – there are so many different medications out there, and so many different people who could potentially react in a different way.

While some of us joke that the treatments are as bad as the illnesses, let us be reminded that these drugs exist with the purpose to help us. And, let us question – how much worse would we be suffering without them? Food for thought.

I’d like to hear – what side effects do you deal with, and how do you combat them?


Stay well,

Ashley Boynes-Shuck

What’s YOUR weapon against arthritis?

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One thought on “The 411 on Side Effects – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck

  1. It’s funny when your on other medication to combat side effects from other drugs! I’m on Restasis to combat severe dry eyes (so severe I’m starting to show signs of iritis!) which dry eye (and skin) is a side effect of biologic infusion – Remicade. I’m of the opinion that if I can live freely with my arthritis and realize there are treatment options and hope, I can create positive change.

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