Can you have an unwanted reaction from a drug?

Yes, because genetically you are unique. Even though the medicine worked perfectly well on every person you know, your body may be different and might react to either the drug or the components in which the drug is made, referred to as the inactive ingredients.

So, if you feel something is not quite right after taking a medicine, check the name of:
1) The active ingredient
2) The list of inactive ingredients. Usually innocuous for most people, some ingredients are not well-tolerated by all.

The saying that “you can make some people happy all of the time and all of the people only some of the time” definitely applies to wonder drugs. There will always be a few people who will be unhappy and some who will be somewhat happy, while the majority will be pleased.

How is that? Your genes. You are a unique individual, and quite different from your immediate circle of friends, but slightly similar to many members of your family and most similar to a few members of your immediate family. Know your genes and you will be a happier person. We are not quite there yet, but I attended a presentation by one of the Nobel Prize winning discoverers of the DNA helical structure of our genes. He predicts a future when we will have little chips in our body, informing all who must know, our entire genetic code. Your medication will be personalized to your own genes.

If you have not liked biology before, be prepared to love it. In the future, your doctor will be talking about “your genes require that I give you this particular dose of this medicine and I must avoid giving you these additives because you personally react to these ingredients”. In other words, you will be familiar with your genes to get personalized medical attention. Many companies are already working for this glorious future.

Until then, what are we to do? Well, we need to be open to the fact that not all medicines will be tolerated by our body. Just because your neighbor Tom loves this medicine, or your coach Yuri recommends it highly, or your chef Xin Lee has enjoyed it for years does not mean that you will not get diarhea or nausea or heart burn or an allergic reaction. For example, Tamiflu has recently become controversial. It has caused deaths in some individuals while presumably helping others with serious flu – like symptoms. The manufacturer of Tamiflu claims it prevents the severe flu from progressing to pneumonia. Others claim it does not work as promised and might even cause death. You may click here to read more about Maria Cheng’s wonderful article in Yahoo news, Nov 12, 2012) discussing the effects of a drug being stock-piled for a deadly flu pandemic.

For a more scientific explanation and differentiation of terms you may want to click here. It defines adverse effect, adverse reaction, drugs, medicine and more. It is rather formal science reading but a pleasure if you want to understand why you should not feel shy to speak up when you feel a medicine “just does not feel right”. The article was published in the respected medical journal Lancet in 2000, when personalized medicine studies began to emerge in earnest. The authors are scientists from Uppsala Monitoring Centre, WHO Collaborating Centre for International Drug Monitoring, Uppsala, Sweden and and Department of Clinical Pharmacology, Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, UK. An excerpt from the article is below.

You may direct questions or interest to
Dr Jeffrey K Aronson (e-mail:

If you wish to encourage such work do write or email these scientists and encourage their work. Let them know you appreciate personalized medicine research. If not, all medicines will continue to be made in “one size fits all” mode. Would you buy a dress, blouse, pant made for a person ten times your size? You must have replied “NO”! Then, soon you will wish personalized medicine was already here. Your personal chip is on its way.


We therefore propose the following definition of an adverse drug reaction: “An appreciably harmful or unpleasant reaction, resulting from an intervention related to the use of a medicinal product, which predicts hazard from future administration and warrants prevention or specific treatment, or alteration of the dosage regimen, or withdrawal of the product.”…..

……The terms “adverse reaction” and “adverse effect” are interchangeable, except that an adverse effect is seen from the point of view of the drug, whereas an adverse reaction is seen from the point of view of the patient. However, the terms “adverse effect” and “adverse reaction” must be distinguished from “adverse event”.

Read more.


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