Everyone has heard them: the rapid fire voiceovers on television advertisements for medications. They sound something like this, “Do not use this medication if you have serious heart disease, suicidal thoughts, liver problems or hangnails. Ask your doctor if this drug is right for you.” If you fast forward through commercials on your DVR and have missed the voiceover, then perhaps you have opened a bag from your pharmacy and found the accordion pleated paper, printed in size two font, containing drug information, warnings, contraindications, precautions, adverse reactions and risks.
Here is a portion of one for a commonly used human medication:
- General: Urticaria, drug rash, anaphylactic shock, photosensitivity, excessive perspiration, chills, dryness of mouth, nose, and throat
- Cardiovascular System: Hypotension, headache, palpitations, tachycardia, extrasystoles
- Hematologic System: Hemolytic anemia, thrombocytopenia, agranulocytosis
- Nervous System: Sedation, sleepiness, dizziness, disturbed coordination, fatigue, confusion, restlessness, excitation, nervousness, tremor, irritability, insomnia, euphoria, paresthesia, blurred vision, diplopia, vertigo, tinnitus, acute labyrinthitis, neuritis, convulsions
- Gl System: Epigastric distress, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation
- GU System: Urinary frequency, difficult urination, urinary retention, early menses
- Respiratory System: Thickening of bronchial secretions, tightness of chest or throat and wheezing, nasal stuffiness
Here is a portion of a drug label for a canine chemotherapy agent:
Anorexia, lethargy, vomiting, lameness, weight loss, blood in stool/GI bleed/hemorrhagic diarrhea, musculoskeletal disorder, dehydration, dermatitis, pruritus tachypnea, localized pain, nausea, general pain, polydipsia, pyrexia, flatulence, pigmentation disorder, neutropenia, thrombocytopenia, increased alanine, aminotransferase, hypoalbuminemia, decreased hematocrit, hyperbilirubinemia, increased creatinine, urinary tract infection.
The United States Food and Drug Administration has strict regulations governing drug labels. Drug labels should be accurate and not promotional. The list of possible side effects is comprehensive to help prescribers, like me, alert their patients, like your pet, to possible problems that might arise while the medication is being taken. Without this critical information, you might keep giving a medication that is actually making your pet worse. The information on a drug label helps me to weigh the risk of not treating a disease with benefits of a medication used to treat the disease.
The warning labels for both the commonly used human drug and the canine chemotherapy agent sound moderately frightening and yet these drugs are critical to improving a patient’s quality or quantity of life. What the drug labels can’t substitute for is experience. Once your veterinarian or physician has used a drug on many patients, we know what to expect and what to tell you to expect. Reading the drug label is a good thing since it helps you to recognize any adverse reactions to medications early. Not giving a drug to your sick pet because the drug label is frightening is foolish, unless you tell your veterinarian about your concerns and together you decide the best course of action for your pet. Remember, we love to talk about sick pets and about medications; it’s what we do every day!
Oh, by the way, the human drug with the seven body system long list of adverse effects was Benadryl.