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Difference Between side effects and adverse effects

Main side effects of Oxycodone.

Side effects vs Adverse effects

Side effects and adverse effects are both experienced by people in the healthcare field. Often the words are interchanged or used instead of the other, but wrongly so. There is ample difference in the meaning of both words.

A side effect of any substance is an effect beyond the chief or primary action that is intended by the person, most often the physician prescribing the drug. This extra action too is foreseen by the doctor. For example, the patient might not be aware of the side effect of diarrhea while using antibiotics but the physician is very well aware about it. Doctors generally advise patients not to pay attention to side effects unless severe and often warn their patients regarding their possibility. Side effects are published by pharmaceutical companies as soon as a new drug is launched in the market owing to the extensive clinical trials that are conducted before launching it in the market for general use. An adverse effect, in distinction, is an effect wherein the reaction occurs over and beyond the chief and desired action of a drug. The adverse reaction is unexpected by both the physician as well as the patient. Side effects are most often mild in nature and often self resolving but adverse effects can be fatal and need to be reversed or antidote immediately. Adverse effects reduce either by reducing the dose of the medicines or by stopping the drug altogether. Occasionally, if the adverse effect is too serious, there might be a need for hospitalization. Adverse effects can occur due to incorrect drug dosage or a surgery too whereas side effects are produced due to medications alone. Side effects are mostly temporary and resolve spontaneously whereas adverse effects are often longer lasting and need intervention.

An adverse effect is an undesired effect and is usually very harmful. Adverse drug effects are experienced by patient’s due to lack of physician’s knowledge about the complete action of the drug and hence, can be called as iatrogenic in nature. The adverse effects can often lead to deterioration of the health condition for which the drug was originally initiated and worsen the prognosis of the disease. A side effect is often used as a therapeutic benefit in the pharmaceutical industry. For instance, a drug like dexamethasone is harmful if used during pregnancy; hence, it is always tapered off as early as possible. But the side effect of dexamethasone is that it increases fetal pulmonary maturation. Thus, it is used in cases of premature labor where there is fetal pulmonary maturation and growth are incomplete. In this case, the side effect of the drug is controlled and employed for a beneficial and therapuetic effect judiciously.

Adverse effects can be classified as reversible or irreversible depending on the severity of the error. If it is related to medication then it is reversible but if it is due to a surgery that some tissue is amputated or damaged, then it is irreversible. Adverse effects are further classified as minor adverse effects and major/serious adverse effects depending upon the degree of the reaction.


Adverse effects can hamper the treatment, lead to a complication or combine with the pre-existing disease and form a totally new disorder which is difficult to treat. One must be careful while using the term side effect as it refers to a reaction which is known but not expected by the physician whereas if one uses the term adverse effect then it implies that the reaction was a totally unexpected one and needs immediate medical attention to correct it.

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  1. I really love the article on side and adverse effects in medication, keep it up!

  2. Thanxx so much m very confused between side effects and adverse effect….but ur this site very usefullness to understand to me…m satisfy this site and I hope will be help full in future for clear my other doubt…thanxx a lot

  3. Sir I want ask something??like can I get lot of medical relative information in my email..if possible so plz send me mY email..

  4. This is very helpful, I always thought side and adverse effects meant the same, thanks for the clarity.

  5. Thanks so much really resourceful. So that means side effects are the other effects of the drug useful or not useful. while the
    adverse effect are the other effects that can happen depending on specific factors. That is, if those factors are not present adverse rxtn is less likely to happen.

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