Put Yourself in the Driver’s Seat When it Comes to Your Health

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With a beginning driver in the family, I’m finding that I need to pay more attention to my own driving. After 40+ years driving, and enough familiarity with where I live to go on "autopilot" most of the time, I seem to be getting complacent. Yeah, that’s it: I know too much. Or think I do.

Taking my granddaughter to her driving lesson last week, I came to a red light at an intersection where I needed to make a right turn.

“You’re allowed to turn right on red,” I told her as I inched forward to look for oncoming traffic. “As long as there isn’t a car coming,” I muttered as I backed up just a tad because there was a car coming.

“But the sign says ‘no turn on red,'” she noted.

Oops! (Lousy observant teenager.)

But I can’t complain. In fact, I gave her an “atta girl,” because she’s doing what she should: learning the facts, making her own observations, and questioning me when things don’t quite mesh.

It’s something we should all do—with our health-care professionals, that is: learn the facts, make our own observations, and question. I’m talking specifically about medications here.

Too many people take their doctor’s word as gospel. The problem is, he may not have seen the “no turn on red” sign. Or, in other words, he may not have seen, or remember, the “run this test before prescribing” notice. He may not remember “do not take with ‘X'” (or even that you are taking ‘X’). He may neglect to tell you to keep a watch out for the “no turn on red” sign.

Stuff like that.

I’m bringing this up for two reasons: There has been a flurry of posts and comments about exenatide (brand name Byetta) and pancreatitis on this site (see “Byetta and Pancreatitis: What You Should Know” and “Byetta Garners Pancreatitis Warning.”) In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced late last week that it has begun posting quarterly reports listing drugs under evaluation for potential safety issues.

Just because a drug has been approved and is on the market doesn’t mean it is without risk. Sometimes problems just plain ol’ don’t come to the fore until the drug is on the market, being consumed by oodles of people under the care of regular, everyday docs.

Presumably, while a drug is in trials, subjects are being monitored by health-care professionals who run the proper tests at the proper times, see the subjects regularly, and keep their ears open for potential risks—and then do something about those complaints.

But once the drug gets out into the “real” world, it may be a different story.

So what can you do? I mean, short of going to medical school (which, in today’s health-care environment, may not be a bad idea). But I digress.

We need to do our own research. We need to ask questions. We need, in short, to look out for ourselves. Are there tests the doctor should be running before the drug is prescribed and at intervals afterwards? (Would troglitazone—brand name Rezulin—have been withdrawn from the market in 2000 for causing liver damage if consumers’ liver enzymes had been checked as recommended?)

Know what the potential side effects are for the drugs you are taking. They’re listed on the patient information sheet that comes with your medications, or you can ask your doctor or pharmacist. Be sure to ask what to do if you experience one of the side effects. If nothing else, you can be a smarty pants when your doc prescribes a diabetes drug that contributes to weight gain (as many diabetes drugs do) and then chastises you for gaining weight. (“Well, you’re the one who prescribed ‘X.’ It can cause weight gain, you know. It says so. Right there.”)

The FDA has a couple of very good publications I would recommend you read. One is on being an active member of your health care team and the other offers tips for talking with your pharmacist. There is some overlap, but both together pretty much cover the gamut of useful recommendations.

One of the most important lessons that having diabetes has taught me is that doctors don’t know everything. They can’t: There’s too much to know.

But we only have ourselves—and maybe a few loved ones—to learn about. We can certainly do what we can to learn about our own little corners of the world and truly become active members of our health-care teams.

For me, the bottom line is that I need to take care of number one. That would be me. If I don’t take care of me, I can’t take care of anybody else. And if I’m not around, who would my granddaughter have to misinform her about driving matters?

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