Are You at Risk for Medication Reactions?

In the ideal world, the medications you take would treat your pressing health problems effectively without causing any ill effects. But unfortunately, medication reactions are a common problem for many people today. What this means for you is that some treatment could make you feel worse instead of better; so it's important to take only medicines you know you can safely tolerate.

Symptoms Common with Medication Reactions

All people are at risk for medication reactions, and they can cause a wide range of symptoms. The good news is that most of them are relatively mild, resulting as a side effect from the medication itself on your body, rather than being caused by a true life-threatening immune system reaction.

Signs of Intolerance

When your body doesn't tolerate a medication well, some of the types of side effects include a mild rash, hives, and nausea. These symptoms can be uncomfortable but usually don't pose any serious dangers. 

Is It an Allergic Reaction or Intolerance?

If you have an actual allergic reaction, the stakes are higher, since your immune system is actually responding to the medication as a foreign invader and responds by launching an attack against it. As a result, you may experience more severe symptoms, including swelling or your face, lips or tongue, wheezing and difficulty breathing, upset stomach and cramping, severe hives and itchiness, dizziness, fainting, heart palpitations, a drop in blood pressure and even anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal if you don't get treatment right away.

Common Culprits for Medication Reactions

Any medication you take can cause you to experience negative effects, but some of the most common causes of medication allergies include antibiotics such as penicillin and sulfa drugs, as well as anticonvulsants, insulin and the contrast dyes used for x-rays.

Diagnosing Medication Reactions

To determine if your symptoms are the result of a medication allergy, your doctor may perform skin testing, but in some cases, the testing alone can put you at real risk. That's why he may just rely on your oral history of allergic reactions to medications to diagnose this condition.

Play it Safe

The only way to prevent a serious reaction is to avoid taking the medication in question, and also to steer clear of drugs in the same family that can cause a similar effect. When you need a medication and no feasible alternative exists, your doctor may have you take corticosteroids and antihistamines first, to try to head off a reaction. Some people also try being desensitized, which in some cases can be effective.

When you're allergic to any medications, it's of the utmost importance to make sure all of your doctors know about your allergy, and if you're at risk for a serious reaction, you should also wear a medical alert bracelet to alert others in the case of an emergency.


Medline Plus/US National Library of Medicine and US National Institutes of Health

University of Illinois Health Center