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Drugs' Odd Side Effects

You know those prescription drug ads on TV, right? At some point, they’ll list the drug’s side effects (often trying unsuccessfully to fit the list into the commercial “naturally” as if people really talk to each other that way). I’m sure I’m not alone in tuning that part out; we all learned our le...

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What strangeness can come from these little colored pills? (Courtesy of flickr user erix!)




You know those prescription drug ads on TV, right? At some point, they’ll list the drug’s side effects (often trying unsuccessfully to fit the list into the commercial “naturally” as if people really talk to each other that way). I’m sure I’m not alone in tuning that part out; we all learned our lesson when the Viagra ads first appeared. But maybe we should pay more attention, because some of these side effects are just plain weird:



Changes in eye color – Latisse, a version of the glaucoma drug bimatoprost, recently came on the market as a way to grow longer eyelashes. However, side effects include darkening of the skin around the eyes and a permanent change in eye color. They may not change from baby blue to chocolate brown, but light-colored eyes can noticeably deepen in shade. Would you risk this when false lashes are so readily available?



Missing fingerprints – Last week, a cancer patient encountered some difficulties when trying to enter the United States because he lacked fingerprints. Thus it was revealed that the oral chemotherapy drug Xeloda can cause blistering of the hands and/or feet to such a degree that, over time, patients can lose their fingerprints. People being treated with the drug and who wish to travel to countries that require fingerprints for identification are now advised to carry a letter from their doctor.



Walking, driving, eating and even having an affair in your sleep – Ambien might do more than help a person sleep. And while sleepwalking is fairly harmless (unless you trip and fall), this drug’s side effects are crazier than that. Some people eat in their sleep, gorging themselves on things, like raw bacon, they would never consume while conscious. Then there’s the story of Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who crashed his Ford Mustang into a barrier in Washington, D.C., allegedly under the influence of Ambien and a second drug. And even stranger, a man wrote to Slate magazine’s Dear Prudence columnist claiming he was unfaithful to his wife while taking Ambien, but he didn’t remember anything of the encounter.



Amnesia – Can’t remember what you did yesterday? Are you taking Mirapex for restless-legs syndrome? Or maybe a statin, such a Lipitor? Both have had reports of short-term memory loss as a side effect. The good news, though, is that the problem seems to go away when people stop taking the drugs.



Colored urine – The antibiotics Flagyl and furazolidone and a drug for high blood pressure in pregnant women, called Aldomet, will turn urine black. The laxative phenolphthalein will turn it purple. The antidepressant Elavil and a muscle relaxant called Robaxin will turn it green. And blue urine might come with taking the diuretic Dyrenium or medications that contain methylene blue. I wonder what would happen if you took some of these in combination?



Compulsive behavior – Mirapex is also used for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. A 2005 study of several Parkinson’s patients on this or similar drugs, though, documented 11 cases of pathological gambling. Last year, a man who had lost $260,000 while under the influence of Mirapex won $8.2 million in a lawsuit against the drug’s maker.
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About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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