Health Watch -- Tracking Drug Effects

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A leading cause of liver failure could be prevented if doctors, pharmacists and patients worked together.

About half of all cases of acute liver failure in the United States are linked to adverse effects from medication, and liver injury is the main reason approved drugs are removed from the market. But fewer than one in 10 drug-related liver injuries is reported. Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say this needs to change.

Dr. William Lee, a noted liver researcher at UT Southwestern, says it's important to report all of these cases so that the Food and Drug Administration has a better idea of which drugs to look at more carefully. Even though a drug has made it through the tough approval process, there still may be side effects that don't show up until it's more widely used.

For instance, only one in about 10,000 patients may develop liver damage from a drug, but during the approval process, the drug may be tested on just 3,000 patients. Outside the clinical trial setting, the drug may be used by a wider variety of patients who have other medical conditions that may result in damage from the drug. If doctors and pharmacists keep records and report damage once the drug is being widely prescribed, it will make it easier to see if there's a potentially dangerous problem with a drug.

Meanwhile, Dr. Lee says patients also need to be alert. If you notice a problem while you're taking medication, talk to your doctor or pharmacist immediately. Also talk to your doctor about foods or other drugs you should avoid while you're on medication.