The Unknown Long-Term Effects of Medications

I am one of the lucky migraineurs out there who has experienced tremendous migraine relief as a result of using prescribed migraine-specific drugs called triptans. It’s been over a dozen years since I was—at last—formally diagnosed with migraine disease and got a prescription for Imitrex. I took my first dose the summer of 2001 and was flabbergasted at how quickly I found relief from my migraine episode.

In the years since, I’ve tried several types of triptans for my migraine. Imitrex, Relpax, Maxalt, and Frova are four that come to mind right away. While I’m very careful to follow my doctors’ orders and take all medications (migraine-specific and otherwise), I don’t have full confidence that my behavior is safe.

The following statements are not intended in the least to besmirch the pharmaceutical industry. I have been helped tremendously by advances in pharmaceutical science and am so grateful for the medical advances that have improved my quality of life in regards to migraine and any other illnesses I have or have had. But, as someone who worked within the pharmaceutical industry for a few years, I know that no experiments are foolproof. Every drug carries with it a host of potential problems. Doctors, scientists, and the FDA do a standup job of making sure a drug is relatively safe before it enters the marketplace. But note the key word here: relatively safe. There are no guarantees. Even those with the highest level of expertise cannot know 100% how a drug will affect an individual over time.

That idea brings me to my main point: I’ve been increasingly concerned of late with just how many pills I have ingested over the years. I am approved by my doctor to take my triptans 2-3 days out of the week; in theory, that shouldn’t be frequent enough to make me spiral into MOH (medication overuse headache). But there have been no studies I’m aware of that actually look at the long-term effect of triptans on migraineurs. To my knowledge, there are no longitudinal studies on migraineurs who have spent a decade or longer on these acute care medications. For years upon years, I’ve taken several triptans a month—and I have no idea what that may be doing to my body. No one can say with certainty what those long-term effects are. (If I’m wrong and you know of any studies that look at these effects, please enlighten me with a source!)

Most of the patients I talk with are like me: we pretty much trust in the system and make an educated guess that the drugs our doctors recommend are going to do much more good than harm, that the benefits of taking such drugs far outweigh the positives. I look at the system (including the arduous and sometimes perplexing process of FDA drug approval) and, in spite of some reservations and skepticism, decide that I will pursue Western medical treatment for my ailments.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t worry a little bit about the unknown. How if my brain being affected by all the pills I have taken over the years?

How do you weigh the positive and negative aspects of treatment options? Which treatments have you decide to pursue despite your concerns, and which have you passed on?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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