Medication Side Effects: “I feel nauseous”

Introduction:

Did you know that the researchers that conduct drug trials do not ask patients about specific side effects? Rather, they ask a generic question such as “are you having adverse reactions to the medication” the patient then has to self-report any specific side effects they are having. Sometimes physicians during medication management sessions will use a similar question when asking about side effects. Some physicians also make statements when prescribing the medication such as “don’t worry most people do not have side effects with this medication.” This is egregious, considering we know these medications have side effects as all medications do. What I want to do over the next several posts, is discuss the common side effects of SSRIs and what you can do about them. The biggest issue we face with psychiatric medications is adherence, and many times side effects play a role. 

I want to start with the most common side effects and work our way down. Nausea is one of the early side effects that is disturbing to patients and may result in discontinuation of the medication. Several things can be done to reduce the risk of nausea. 

Medication Starting Dose and Titration

One simple step could be to start the medication at the lowest possible dose and titrate slowly. Titrating the dose over one week has been shown to cut the risk of nausea in half. Another potential intervention is to split the dose and give the split dose with separate meals. If possible, use sustained/extended release preparations of the medication. For example, starting a patient on escitalopram 5 mg instead of 10 mg might help reduce the risk of nausea. Another simple change could be the timing of medication administration. Taking the medication after a meal may be helpful. Many patients find that food helps reduce the nausea and most of these medications can be taken with or without food. 

Ginger Is Good

If the above interventions fail to help you can consider ginger root. This dietary supplement can be purchased over the counter from your local health food store. Ginger root 550 mg one to two capsules up to three times per day if the slow titration and other intervention are ineffective. 

If All Else Fails

Finally, if the nausea does not respond to the above interventions then anti-nausea medications are appropriate. The two most commonly used at ondansetron and Mirtazapine which also blocks 5HT-3 receptors leading to reduced nausea. 

Medication Side Effects: Doctor my mouth is a little dry

Regular Dental Care and Oral Hygiene

Dry mouth is another common side effect from psychiatric medication. Patients on psychiatric medication often have poor dental care and poor dental outcomes. There is increased incidence of dental caries and oral ulcers in this population. This patient population is also three times more likely to lose all their teeth. Let that sink in for a moment. Now some of this is related to not following the recommended dental hygiene guidelines such as regular cleanings at least every 6-months. Thus, this is the first step in the process. Ensure the patient first has a dentist, and second be sure they are making regular 6-month appointments, and if they have issues with dental health, they should be going for cleanings as often as every 3 months. Oral hygiene is the foundation for the remainder of the interventions.

Gum, Candy, and Pilocarpine

Most patients are told to carry a bottle of water around and take frequent sips throughout the day. This does not work. It provides temporary relief, and does not address the underlying issue. You can educate the patient about drinking more water while eating which can help facilitate the swallowing process especially when dry mouth is an issue. Carrying a cup of ice can be helpful but is not convenient. What I prefer is the use of sugarless gum or candy which can be easily carried and chewed as needed. Studies have demonstrated that xylitol containing gum can reduce the levels of Mutans streptococci and lactobacilli in saliva and plaque. This has the potential to reduce the incidence of dental caries, and is an inexpensive option for most patients. I will also recommend as a second line using a mouth wash for dry mouth such as Biotene. If these interventions are not effective a medication to stimulate saliva production such as pilocarpine. In many cases pilocarpine eye drops which act locally is a better option than a medication that acts systemically. 

Final Words

Dry mouth is a common side effect patent’s experience but may not always bring to the clinician’s attention. There are interventions to treat this side effect that range from simple interventions like xylitol containing gum to pharmacological interventions such as pilocarpine eye drops. Most patients will experience relief with the above treatments. This highlights the importance of asking about specific side effects so they can be treated early and prevent long term Complications such as tooth loss. 

Medication Side Effects: Doctor I’m Gaining Weight!

One of the biggest challenges we face in the field of psychiatry is medication adherence. A large portion of the people fail to get better either because they do not start the medication, or do not take it as prescribed. One of the most common reason cited by patients for stopping medication is weight gain. In this article I will detail the approach I take to weight management for patients on psychiatric medications. 

Initial Visit: 

Weight management is a discussion that should happen between the patient and clinician at the first meeting. It’s important to use primary prevention (preventing the onset of weight gain) if possible. We always obtain some objective measures such as height, weight, and calculate the BMI on the initial visit and subsequent visits. Additional tests that may be ordered include HBA1C, fasting blood glucose, and lipid profile. This is where I will take the opportunity to discuss the importance of diet and exercise. For people with little diet or exercise experience I will keep the information very basic. The discussion will center around eliminating processed foods, calorie containing beverages, increasing fruit and vegetable intake, and making good choices when shopping at the food store. I have several handouts with food choices on them that help guide the patient when making food choices at the grocery store. I also recommend patient’s keep a food diary or track their food intake on a mobile app such as my fitness pal. This will help us to understand more about the patient’s eating habits and identify potential areas for improvement. I will build on diet interventions and monitor progress with the food diary or app at each visit. I do not recommend a specific diet, as it’s far more important for the patient to pick something they can be consistent with, and there are multiple ways to achieve weight management goals. At this time the closest diet we have that I’m comfortable recommending is the Mediterranean diet. There is some good evidence that the Mediterranean diet can have an antidepressant effect which is an added bonus.

Exercise

Exercise is the next area to address. I like to ask some screening questions about what type of physical activity the patient engages in, and how much experience they have with fitness/athletics. I will then ask them to track their exercise over the subsequent weeks prior to returning for follow up visit. On the initial visit I will recommend they begin a basic walking program of at least 30 minutes per day preferably seven days per week. This is a simple thing to incorporate on a daily basis, and does not require any special equipment or gym membership. We can improve on this routine and incorporate resistance training on a case by case basis. 

Medication Choice

The next step in the process is to make a medication choice that limits the potential for weight gain. Most psychiatric medications cause weight gain. This is an unavoidable fact. Avoiding the use of medications with the highest propensity of weight gain including Clozapine, Olanzapine, and Mirtazapine is good planning on the physician’s part. It’s important to note that it’s not always possible to avoid these medications. Medications such as Aripiprazole which are considered to be weight neutral, from clinical experience are not weight neutral at all. It’s important for the clinician to make good choices if weight gain is a potential issue that will interfere with treatment.

Medication For Weight Management

My last line of defense against weight gain which often comes too late is medication management. I like to start with Metformin extended release 500 mg daily after the largest meal. This is to test the patient’s tolerance for the medication. The goal is to titrate to 2000 mg/day in divided doses. A B12 level should be checked once per year as Metformin has been known to reduce levels. There is evidence in the literature from a Meta-analysis of all RCTs supporting the use of Metformin for antipsychotic induced weight gain. The important thing to remember is to start the medication at the earliest signs of weight gain, or even before the onset of weight gain in high risk patients. The patients most likely to benefit are those who are younger, more recently started on antipsychotics, overweight but nor obese, and those that had rapid weight gain. 

The second medication I will talk about is Topiramate There is evidence from RCTs to support the use of Topiramate for antipsychotic induced weight gain. There is greater weight loss with Topiramate over placebo, with a mean decrease of 2.8 kg. The effective dose for the medication is 100 to 200 mg/day depending on the patient’s tolerance. Getting to an effective dose can often take some time with this medication.

Final Points

Weight management discussions begin day one when medications are going to be used. Prevention is the first line option with lifestyle modification including diet and exercise. Medication choice also plays a big role. When initiating medication being mindful of the propensity for weight gain, and using medications that are weight neutral if possible, can help. If these measures fail, there are a few options backed by research evidence which can be used but I believe lifestyle modification is the best option. 

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