It had to happen, I guess. I’m 75, getting on a bit with some body parts not working as well as they used to and, it seems, a blood pressure no longer sitting at the coveted 120 mm Hg (systolic) and 80 mm Hg (diastolic) sweet spots. I’m at Stage 1 Hypertension and my doctor has prescribed a daily dose of a drug called Amlodipine (a calcium-channel blocker, whatever that means) to be taken until I die! So, finally, I’ve joined the daily pill poppers. But, that’s not what I wanted to write about. When I opened my first pack of take-’em-forever pills, a folded sheet of instructions fell out. Being scientifically trained, I thought I would read these instructions to discover what exactly these pills will do to my deteriorating body. I expected to find a detailed description of all the benefits of taking the drug with maybe a brief warning here and there of some possible side effects but what I found was exactly the opposite. Here are the details.
The leaflet measured 13 cm wide by 42.5 cm long (longer than three sheets of standard size toilet paper), folded in a neat concertina style that would defy any attempt to refold exactly after opening, and printed double-sided in a serif font I worked out to be of size 8. (For reference, a serif font has little twiddly bits on the ends of each letter whereas a sans serif font does not. Sans serif fonts are considered easier to read. For example, this blog is written in a sans serif font (Calibri). Also, books and blogs usually use font sizes equal to or greater than 11. Anything less, such as size 8, places a strain on the eyes, especially old eyes.) The information in the leaflet was broken down into a general introduction followed by six headlined sections. Here is the breakdown in terms of centimetres of text:
What caught my eye was the huge number of centimetres of text devoted to the bad news—warnings, precautions, and possible side effects of the drug—compared with the centimetres devoted to the good news—what the drug does. To get a better view of this, here’s the breakdown expressed as a pie chart with percentages:
Here, all is revealed: 4% devoted to the good news and a whopping great 24% + 33% = 57% devoted to the bad news. Jeez, how am I expected to have any faith in this product when over half the descriptive leaflet is warning me of the dangers?
I took a closer look at the two bad news sections. First, warnings and precautions. This was full of, “Do not take if…” conditions. Well, I’m not pregnant or breastfeeding nor am I a child or adolescent so that bit was okay but there was a long list of other medicines which if I was also taking I would need to inform my doctor or a pharmacist for further advice. The list appeared to be written in Klingonese. I recognised none of the names of the other medicines which, in my case, is probably a good thing.
Okay, so far, so good. I moved on to the section on possible side effects. As some of you know, I watch and enjoy horror movies, especially those that present unwanted and horrific side effects of drugs such as what happens in Side Effects (2013), Shrooms (2007), Requiem for a Dream (2000), and many other rogue medicine horror movies. Consequently, I was appalled at what I read in the leaflet. Take a look:
- 1 in 10 people may suffer headaches, dizziness, sleepiness, palpitations, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and constipation (at the same time?), muscle cramps, ankle swelling, and a whole bunch of other adverse reactions;
- 1 in 100 people may suffer depression, hair loss, ringing in the ears, low blood pressure (I thought this was what the drug was supposed to do!), vomiting, increased need to urinate at night (or wet the bed?), enlargement of male breasts (Playboy, here I come), erectile dysfunction (no comment), weight increase or decrease (that’s what it says!);
- 1 in 1,000 people may become confused (or more confused as the case may be); and
- 1 in 10,000 people may experience damage to white or red blood cells, or develop hyperglycaemia (excess blood sugar), gastritis, hepatitis, jaundice, skin rash, sensitivity to light, or disorders combining rigidity, tremor and movement.
Now, answer these questions. Where did all these statistical probabilities come from and why should I risk all these terrible things by taking this drug? In a nutshell, what’s gonna kill me—hypertension, or the drug to reduce hypertension? When I find out, I’ll let you know, posthumously of course.