‘You feel like you haven’t got any control’: a qualitative study of side effects from medicines

Bernadine O’Donovan, Ruth M Rodgers, Anthony R Cox, Janet Krska

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Objectives: An aging UK population and multi-morbidity means patients are receiving an increasing number of medicines. This can lead to greater risk of unintended side effects. The aim of this study was to increase understanding of how people identify and manage side effects from their medicines.

Design: A qualitative interview study with patients who had experienced side effects, recruited from community pharmacies.MethodsThis study examined patients? experiences of side effects and the impact of these effects on their daily life. Fifteen participants were interviewed ? 10 females and 5 males, with ages that ranged between 25 and 80 years, using different types and numbers of medicines.

Results: Thematic analysis revealed six themes: side effect experience, identification, adherence, information use, coping and body awareness. Participants described a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms which had both explicit and implicit impact on their lives. A system of identification based on constructed cognitive processes was common across participants. A variety of strategies were used by participants to cope with their side effects which included information seeking, social support seeking and non-adherent behaviours.

Conclusions: Psychological factors, such as medication beliefs, symptom interpretation and body awareness, contribute to cognitive and behavioural processes used to identify and manage side effects. These processes can have significant impacts on an individual?s decisions about adherence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-24
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Patient Safety and Risk Management
Issue number1
Early online date11 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


  • Side effects
  • adverse drug reactions
  • patient experiences
  • thematic analysis
  • adherence


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