Assessing the Risk and Benefit in Treatment

The goal of taking medications to treat an illness is to make us feel better. When we are feeling ill and are looking for relief, the benefit of treatment is usually the focus. But, what about the risk that comes with it? When considering a treatment, you will want to understand and consider the risks as well as the benefits.

Any medicine- prescription, over-the-counter (OTC), dietary supplement, and herbal- can have risks as well as benefits. Benefits are the helpful effects that you get from a drug or other therapy. Risks are the chances that something unwanted or unexpected could happen to you, commonly referred to as side effects. This could be minor or serious and sometimes can be unavoidable to achieve treatment benefits.

What You Can Do

It is important to talk with your healthcare provider about treatment risk and benefit. Here are some examples of questions to ask:

  • What is the possible benefit from the drug being prescribed or suggested to you?
  • In the context of your personal illness status, what are the chances that you will receive benefit from the treatment?
  • How much benefit should you reasonably expect?
  • What possible side effects might there be from the treatment
  • What are the chances that you will experience a side effect or serious adverse event from the treatment?
  • What can you do to reduce the chances of side effects?
  • How will you know when a side effect occurs?
  • Exactly what should you do if a side effect occurs?

What to Expect from Your Healthcare Provider?

It is important to work in partnership with your healthcare provider to ensure the best quality of life. Good communication is important and should be done regularly as you work to manage your condition. Here are ways your healthcare provider may help assess the risk and benefit of a treatment.

They can:

  • educate you about your disorder; including natural progression, and treatment options,
  • explain the level of benefit your treatment may achieve, and the risk associated with the treatment,
  • explain factors that may affect risk and benefit (i.e. prior medical history, medications, or lifestyle choices),
  • Explain your risks, including what they are and how to reduce them,
  • explain how to recognize side effects or adverse events and how to handle them when they occur.

Getting a Better Understanding

It is important to be well-informed about the benefits and risks of a treatment. There are no cures for many gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses. While the search for improved treatment options continues, we must do our best to understand current therapies.

All medications have inherent risks. Knowing this can help you consider the best treatment option for you. When starting a new medication, let your healthcare provider know the names of all medications (and dosage) that you are currently taking, including supplements, herbal preparations, or over-the-counter medications that you have purchased yourself. In addition, be sure to inform them of any problems you experienced with medications in the past.

Researching Medications Online

There are many websites offering information on OTC and prescription medications. Unfortunately, not all of them have accurate up-to-date information. For the most reliable resources, view the manufacturer website or search the FDA Medication Guides. These easy-to-read guides offer general information on side effects and medications.

Adapted from IFFGD Publication #270- Assessing Risk as Well as Benefit in Treatments By: Eamonn M. Quigley, M.D., Methodist Hospital and Weill Cornell College of Medicine, Houston; Adapted from article by: William F. Norton, Former Vice President, International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), Milwaukee, WI; Edited by: William D. Chey, MD, AGAF, FACG, FACP, RFF, Nostrant Collegiate Professor, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

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IFFGD is a nonprofit education and research organization. Our mission is to inform, assist, and support people affected by gastrointestinal disorders.

Our original content is authored specifically for IFFGD readers, in response to your questions and concerns.

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