My Asthma Story Part 2: Bad Medicine

Image credit: WebMD

If you haven’t yet read part 1 of my Asthma Story, you may want to look at that first.

So on Saturday when I woke up and sat up in bed, I felt really tired. I thought that was strange, since I hadn’t drank the night before and had gotten a full night of sleep. I wondered if I was maybe getting a cold. My wife was still sleeping, so I decided I would go downstairs and get some breakfast while I waited for her to wake up.

However, when I got to the stairs of our house and looked down them, I felt like my legs weren’t going to be steady enough for me to walk down the steps, and our staircase didn’t have a railing, so I turned around and crawled down the steps like a baby.

When I got to the bottom of the steps, I was out of breath, and I sat on the steps and recovered before I stood up to walk to the kitchen. On the way to the kitchen, though, I felt tired again and ended up sitting down in my computer chair to catch my breath again. While I was sitting there, I was thinking about how the previous weekend I had cycled about a hundred kilometers into the mountains, but that day I couldn’t even walk down the stairs. I remembered that my father had some trouble with his cholesterol medicine in the past, and he’s an oral surgeon, so might know something about what was going on. Since I was at my computer anyway, I gave him a call on Skype.

I explained how I had started this new cholesterol medicine, and that I was feeling really tired and my muscles were all sore. He asked what the name of the medicine was and I told him it was Crestor. He got really angry and said, “One of the side effects of that medicine is muscle degeneration. Stop it right away!”

So I stopped taking the medicine and went back to see my doctor on Monday, and the blood test confirmed that I was, indeed, suffering from the side effect of muscle degeneration. My muscles were so sore that I couldn’t ride my bicycle again until a month after I stopped the medicine.

However, none of the people I talked to on the day I got my medicine, not my doctor, nor the nurse, nor the pharmacist told me about the side effects of the medicine or any particular symptoms that I should watch out for, even though I specifically told my pharmacist that it was my first time to take the medicine and I asked if there were any specific instructions that they had for me.

Visiting the drug information site for Crestor, it says:

In rare cases, Crestor can cause a condition that results in the breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue, leading to kidney failure. Call your doctor right away if you have unexplained muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness especially if you also have fever, unusual tiredness, and dark colored urine.

I’ve since read that this particular severe side effect is only experienced in 1 / 10,000 patients, although in my experience its been 4 / 4 of the people I know who have taken this medicine; me, my father, one of my aunts (my father’s sister), and my grandmother, which makes for 100%. Unfortunately, I had known my father had a bad reaction to his cholesterol medicine, but my doctor never asked me about my father’s experience of taking cholesterol medicine; he only asked me if my father had type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Should it be my responsibility to look up the side effects of the medicines I’m prescribed or should the doctors and pharmacists who prescribe and dispense these medicines talk about their side effects with their patients? These are the questions I raise with my students when I tell this story in class. I also tell them that I was really lucky I have a doctor father who I could call when I experienced the side effect, and I ask them how many of their patients in the future are going to be in the same lucky position where they can call a doctor relative when something unexpected happens with one of their medicines. My next regular appointment with my doctor was one month later. I hate to think what would have happened if I had waited the full month to go see him again.

The story used to end here, but after I moved to Toyama there was a part 3 added. You can read this newest part of the story here.