23andMe Customers’ Reported Side-Effects To Drugs

As many as one-third of customers in a 23andMe survey reported some sort of side effect from prescription or over-the-counter medication, according to data compiled by our researchers. cartoon-pills The results confirm that people often experience unintended effects from medication.

Most of the time those effects are minor, but many people reported side effects serious enough to either stop taking a drug, or prompt them to seek medical attention.According to a more than decade old study, “adverse drug reactions” (also referred to as “ADRs”) are one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.

Other studies cited by the FDA indicate that more than 6 percent of hospitalizations are due to adverse drug reactions.The survey done by 23andMe is part of ongoing research that looks at differences in how people react to medication. There are some caveats in the data and the accompanying graphic. For one we don’t lump the drugs into classes – antibiotics, opiates and NSAID, for example. In the case of sulfa drugs, we list Bactrim – a sulfa drug – on its own.

In part it is because this reflects the actual responses filled in by customers. The survey included responses from 68,782 customers. Of those, more than 33 percent said they’d experienced side effects serious enough to either stop taking medication, or that the side effects sent them to the hospital. The most common reported side effects were rashes, hives, nausea, vomiting and pain. Also in the top ten were side effects such as difficulty breathing, depression and anxiety.

Customers reported that penicillin, sulfa drugs and codeine were most frequently reported to cause those side effects, the survey showed.Understanding why we react differently to medication can help both patients and those prescribing medication to avoid those problems. Patient error, interactions with other drugs or supplements or allergic reactions are sometimes to blame, but genetics can also play a role.

At this year’s  American Society of Human Genetics meeting in Boston, a team of 23andMe scientists presented research showing a genetic association with opioid-induced vomiting.Unlike many other pharmacogenetic studies that focus on very small cohorts, this study included more than 2,400 individuals who reported that the opioid codeine triggered vomiting. The study had about 10,000 controls, or individuals who reported no problems taking the pain medication.Beyond the relative robustness of the study, the research is also significant in that it looked at the genetics behind moderate side effects to a prescription drug.  

Rarely done in pharmacogenetic studies, moderate side effects still play a huge role in the relative effectiveness of medication because they impact whether people actually use the drug as prescribed.

  • mmk88

    Hi, interesting article and clearly outlines future opportunities in improving patient outcomes. However, seems like your info-graphic has a mistake. You have categorized, Morphine, Vicodin, and Lipitor as antibiotics.

    • Scott23H

      Thanks for the note. Perhaps there is something in the infographic that isn’t clear, but we did not categorize morphine and viocodin as antibiotics. Could you point out what you’re looking at?

      • mmk88

        sure, attached. cheers

        • Scott23H

          So that would be a lack of clarity in the graphic. In looking at the top ten reported drugs, antibiotics were most often cited.

  • Laura Henze Russell

    Interesting article. I’ve come to believe that all drug and medical device studies must include genomics screening and tracking of who reacts how to what, based on gene type. We don’t put one octane of gas in our cars, why in our bodies? And why, for the love of god, are dentists still installing toxic dental amalgam, which off-gases mercury and causes a raft of chronic autoimmune, behavioral, cognitive, memory, mood and psychiatric diseases in genetically susceptible children and adults?

  • Laura Henze Russell

    23andMe-ers: Fifty years after the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking, please join me in asking President Obama to instruct the U.S. Surgeon General to prepare a Report on Dental Amalgam. Want to help kids and adults get and stay healthier? Don’t put toxic heavy metals into people who don’t methylate and detox well! 23andMe knowedge, biocompatibility blood testing for dental materials, and seeing only mercury-free and mercury-safe-removal biologic dentists provides pathways for recovery of health and vitality. I was lucky to only be sick for 22 years, rather than the lifetime that many of us are from known neurotoxins hiding right under our noses. http://shar.es/99spc via @sharethis – blogs.wickedlocal.com

  • Jim Davis

    Interesting post. I can definitely see genetics eventually playing a role in reducing ADEs. As a comparison, we took the 23andMe results and compared it to the data and analytics we have in our AdverseEvents Explorer software. bit.ly/1lVAPcK Our sample size is 4 million+ cases!

  • Scott23H

    Thanks Jim. That’s pretty cool.

  • cclawson2

    Bactrim just about killed me – I wish they would educate doctors better about the very bad issues that it can cause with some people. They were largely unhelpful. Now I always go to “ask-a-patient” before taking any drug I haven’t had before. You get a far more honest picture of things if you do that.

  • Max

    It sure would be nice if the FDA didn’t take away customer’s ability to see how they compare!!! This would be good information!