adverse reaction
Medical Care

Understanding Adverse Drug Reactions

For most treatable health conditions, patients expect to take at least one prescription drug if not multiple depending on the condition or the severity of the health issue being treated. Most people, however, don’t anticipate experiencing any sort of adverse drug event (ADE).

It is difficult to imagine a drug injuring someone in the process of treating the person’s malady, but ADEs are relatively common, and the more people understand the potential risks involved with a medication, the better.

An ADE can be any injury caused by a medication. Think allergic reactions, a severe side effect, an overdose, or a medication error. Sometimes the problem lies in the relationship between the patient’s body and the medication itself, while other adverse events occur because of human error. Either way, ADEs are at the root of nearly 3.5 million physician visits each year, and studies estimate that more than 7 million patients are affected by preventable medication errors. With greater awareness and education, this number could be drastically reduced and save lives as well as healthcare dollars spent on doctor and emergency room visits. Let’s look at some of the drugs most notably associated with ADEs.


ADEs caused by anticoagulants or blood thinners shouldn’t come as too great of a surprise. The nature of the drug inherently comes with more risk. Patients taking anticoagulants run the risk of severe bleeding events should they sustain an injury while taking the medication. For patients taking newer blood thinners like Xarelto or Pradaxa, the risk for adverse events was actually increased. When the anticoagulants were first introduced, they lacked an approved antidote to reverse the blood thinning effects of the drug. Before an antidote came to market for Xarelto, over 22,000 people suffered severe or fatal injuries, according to the FDA, and the drug’s manufacturer now faces a slew of patient lawsuits.


The current opioid crisis is nothing new for most Americans with trending headlines covering lawsuits against opioid pharmaceutical companies to doctors mishandling or blatantly abusing their prescribing responsibilities. However, what this crisis has done is exposed the prescription side of the epidemic. Between 1999 and 2017, prescription opioid overdose deaths increased five-fold, and one major study found that patients experiencing opioid-related adverse events following surgery had “worse cost and patient outcomes” including increased opioid use. While not all patients using opioids to recover from surgery experience an ADE, those who do suffer quite dire consequences.



In today’s society, antibiotics are seen by many as a cure-all for some of our most common ailments. From ear infections to staph infections, antibiotics treat a variety of health issues – specifically those maladies caused by a bacterial infection.

And while it is common to see stories about antibiotic resistance make headlines, antibiotic adverse events are seldom discussed. In actuality, however, the CDC found that adverse reactions to antibiotics account for 16% of emergency departments visits for ADEs. That number is closer to 50% in children under the age of 6.


Suffice to say, not all ADEs are preventable, but for those that are, patients and doctors can both take proactive steps to avoid a real emergency. Both parties should be forthcoming with important relevant information. Patients should be open to discussing lifestyle habits and other medications they may be taking so that their doctor can prescribe the safest medication available. Doctors should be honest about any risks or potential side effects that may result from taking the medication; with this knowledge, their patient might stand a better chance of spotting and treating an adverse reaction early, avoiding more serious events.

Caitlin Hoff works as a Consumer Advocate at specializing in areas of drug safety, consumer news, and legal cases surrounding problematic consumer products, drugs, and medical devices. Caitlin works diligently to educate consumers on topics of prevention and safety.

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