Side effects, precisely, are unwanted but natural and anticipated consequences of taking a particular medication. They can be, to a relative degree, inconsequential; or they may be serious and, therefore, require prompt attention. Adverse reactions are completely different; they are rare and unforeseen bodily responses. They can likewise be either insignificant or dangerous.
The constipation and dry mouth you might develop while taking atropine (a drug extracted from the perennial herbaceous plant called deadly nightshade or belladonna) are good examples of minor side effects. A perfect example of a serious side effect is excessive bleeding resulting from the use of a blood thinner, a prescription drug used to prevent the formation of blood clots, especially in the lower limbs.
One type of adverse reaction is an allergic reaction caused by a particular drug. A minor adverse reaction, for example, might involve no more than an instance of an allergic disorder known as hives induced by taking penicillin. But if, under the same conditions, the reaction is of major significance, it might result to a life-threatening shock reaction. Dangerous reactions may be uncommon; still, you should be aware of the types of side effects and adverse reactions different drugs can cause.
To learn as much as possible about the side effects and potential for adverse reactions of any drug you take, there are various sources that one can refer to. For example, all drug companies are required to list all known side effects and adverse reactions (regardless how uncommon) in both the literature and packaging of the drug. When buying a medication, make sure that you read all warnings and directions that go with it; you may also ask your doctor what side effects and adverse reactions to expect.
Additionally, you may have to know if the medication includes more than one drug, or if it contains substances to which you may be allergic, such as color dyes, additives, or preservatives. Equally important is for you to know if there are any specific safeguards that you should comply with, such as avoiding certain foods or beverages. Find out, too, if reciprocal actions are possible with any other drugs that you may be taking. Discuss with your doctor any unwanted or rare reactions you may have previously experienced with certain drugs.
Several drug reference materials are obtainable from your local library or bookstore. They contain the most recent information on both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. They also provide reviews on side effects, adverse reactions, beneficial and health-damaging interactions, and diet limitations. Generally well-indexed and easy to use, these publications offer answers to most of the questions concerning side effects and adverse reactions.