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Analyzing the side effects of common drugs; questioning conventional pregnancy wisdom

eHealthMe website helps patients analyze drug effects and symptoms. (Mehmet Dilsiz/Bigstock)
Health Data
A consult for drug effects, symptoms
eHealthMe, a database of side effects

Wondering whether your abdominal pain is related to your Synthroid medication or if your insomnia is a side effect of Albuterol?

The Web site aims to help people connect the dots between the drugs they take and how they feel. The site, which is free, merges social media and medical data to help people get to the root of their problems.

Users can find studies, anonymously ask a question or peruse queries posed by others. The site provides an extensive database of the possible side effects of 45,000 drugs, vitamins and supplements; it also connects users with other people who suffer from similar problems.

Questions are not answered by medical professionals. Instead, when someone posts a question, the site invites other eHealthMe users of the same gender and similar age who have taken the same medications to answer the question. As the site warns, this does not replace the advice of a doctor, but knowing, for example, that you’re not the only one who has experienced sudden hearing loss when using eye drops is comforting. It may also help users ask better informed questions when they do seek medical help.

“Expecting Better” author Emily Oster questions conventional wisdom about pregnancy, such as avoid drinking wine after the first trimester. (Bigstock)
Debunking advice for expectant women
“Expecting Better” by Emily Oster

When University of Chicago economist Emily Oster became pregnant in 2010, she, like many other women, was inundated with advice on everything from drinking coffee and eating soft cheeses to prenatal testing and having sex to induce labor.

But the more she learned, the more confused she became. So Oster put on her economist’s cap and decided to find answers herself. What she found, she writes in “Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong — and What You Really Need to Know,” was that much of the advice given to women is misguided or incorrect.

Among her findings: It’s fine to have the occasional glass of wine after the first trimester. Don’t fear sushi, but avoid raw- milk cheese. Worry about gaining too little — not too much — weight during pregnancy. The risk of miscarriage from such tests as amniocentesis is much lower than cited by most doctors.

“Pregnancy and childbirth (and child rearing) are among the most important and meaningful experiences most of us will ever have; probably the most important,” Oster writes. “Yet we are often not given the opportunity to think critically about the decisions we make. Instead, we are expected to follow a largely arbitrary script without question.”

Oster’s book received considerable media attention when it was released in August. But not all of it was positive. One review on the Daily Beast criticized Oster for debunking existing recommendations “personally, as an economist,” without interviewing medical professionals, public-health experts or scientists. “[Encouraging] every parent to partially become her own doctor and to evaluate data for herself on a case-by-case basis is troublesome,” the review said.

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