If you want your doctor to understand your side effects and how they affect you, you need to be able to describe them clearly.
Your doctor can then check for other possible causes. For example, that diarrhoea is not related to food poisoning, or that sexual problems are not related to low testosterone.
The best way to do this is to keep a side effects diary from when you start a new drug. Record everything until you next see your doctor.
A side effects diary is included in this guide. Take this diary with you when you see your doctor at your next appointment.
Describe symptoms giving information about frequency, duration, severity and impact on your life.
How often do you get symptoms?
- Once or twice a week? Once every day? 5–10 times a day? etc
- Do they occur at night as well as during the day?
How long do the symptoms last?
- If you feel sick or get headaches, does this last for 20 minutes, 3–4 hours, or different lengths of times?
- Is there a pattern? Is it two hours after each dose? or every morning etc?
How bad are the symptoms?
- Rate them on a scale (from 1 for mild to 5 for severe).
- A scale is a useful for describing anything that involves pain.
- Recording severity when side effects occur is better than trying to remember later.
- Does anything help?
Quality of life
How do the symptoms affect your daily life? This can really help your doctor understand how difficult the side effects are for you.
- Many people put up with chronic diarrhoea without explaining to their doctor that it stops them ever going to the pub or the cinema. Tell your doctor if this is the case.
- If you are feeling more anxious or nervous, are not sleeping properly, or have a lower sex drive, it is important that your doctor understands this.
- If you have taste changes, or are too nauseous to eat properly, it is important for your doctor know.
- Symptoms of lipodystrophy, the term for body fat changes, are difficult to measure. If this worries you it can change your whole outlook on life. Are you less social or less confident? Is this contributing to depression?
- Do side effects make you less strict at taking your meds?
Although minor changes may not be a problem, more severe symptoms can change your whole outlook on life, and lead to depression.
If side effects affect your adherence (ie you are not taking all your meds at the correct time), you must tell your doctor about this.
1 July 2012