When It’s Not In Your Head

axehead.jpgThis week’s news saw two extraordinary health tales–both of them reminders to trust yourself and report odd symptoms, even if they seem embarrassingly weird. The first story is the horrifying news that Bindeez toys can convert to the date-rape drug when swallowed. How likely does that seem? Imagine being the mother who has to take her toddler to the emergency room and say– “he’s acting drunk and I think it’s because of his toy.” Hats off to the women who stepped forward. They are absolutely heroes and have probably prevented deaths around the world, all by trusting their gut instincts. The second story is the news that one of the most prescribed cholesterol drugs in America, simvastatin (also known as Zocor) significantly disrupts sleep, including causing nightmares. Again, how likely does that seem as a side effect of lowering cholesterol? Cholesterol researchers also found that another, similar drug, pravastatin (also known as Pravachol) does NOT cause these side effects–presumably because the second drug is not fat-soluble and, therefore, has a harder time getting into the brain. For all those patients who told their doctors, “you know, I’ve been having nightmares since I started this drug,” and whose doctors then said, “well, that’s not very likely, now is it?,” we in the medical profession apologize. When it comes to medications, the simvastatin story is a cautionary reminder that pharmaceutical companies test their drugs in relatively small numbers of relatively healthy people. What happens later, after the drug is approved and prescribed to millions and millions of people is a whole ‘nother story–and one that often gets overlooked. The Doc Gurley take on drug side effects is that, until proven otherwise, any drug can pretty much do anything. So, no matter how weird or implausible a side effect sounds, if you’re the provider–believe the patient; if you’re the patient–trust your gut. Then, work hard together to find another safe treatment option–especially for drugs that you’re going to take for decades.

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