In order to make medications that are safe and work in a consistent manner, very strict laboratory practices are followed. The prescription medication industry has to follow guidelines that are set forth by the Food and Drug Administration.
This means many years of testing, development and tracking how well a medication works, and what side effects there are from the medication, are completed. It is important to note than medications such as herbs or alternative treatments do not go through the same testing and approval processes as prescription medications.
Medications are generally made from the following:
- Compounds found in nature, usually from plants and trees (digoxin for the heart)
- Using bacteria to secrete substances that are then used for medication (insulin for diabetes)
- Complex chemical engineering to develop a very focused and targeted drug for a specific use (chemotherapy or antibiotics)
How are Medications Supplied?
Medications can be absorbed by the body in many different ways
- Through the skin
- Inhalation (breathing in)
- By swallowing and digesting
- Injection directly into a vein
- Injection into fat or muscle
Sometimes people forget that medications they take as eye drops and creams are still medications. When you discuss the medications you take with your care provider, always list everything, not just the pills.
How does The Body Process Medication?
As soon as you swallow a medication, the body starts breaking it down and excreting it. The most common organs for excreting medications are the liver and the kidney. You can also sweat out the chemical components of a medication, or it can leave your body through your breath. For example, a breathalyzer can detect how much alcohol you’ve been drinking because one of the ways it’s excreted from the body is through the lungs.
IV medications, medications that are absorbed through the skin and inhaled medications enter the body faster and usually at higher doses, but are eventually broken down and excreted by the same processes.
Dangerous Medication Side Effects
Despite many years of research, sometimes side effects of medications become known many years later. It isn’t until thousands of people have taken a medication for years that these side effects begin to show up in a percentage of the population.
The Food and Drug Administration tracks these side effects, and publishes warnings about medications that are on the market.
You can search their database to see if they have issued any warnings about a medication you take or a procedure you have received here:
Your primary care provider should tell the FDA if you have a serious and unexpected side effect of a medication. You can also report this directly to the FDA to be sure they get the information.
The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed medical professional. It is essential that you discuss with your primary care provider any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.