What is drug safety

No medicine is 100 per-cent safe, because all products have the risk of a side effect. These may be very minor, such as an upset stomach, but they may also be serious, such as liver damage. For example, cancer treatments may make the difference between living and dying.

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They can also make patients feel very unwell and increase the chances of infections. Aspirin reduces inflammation and fever. But it can also irritate the lining of the stomach.

Different people respond to medicines differently. Several factors can influence the chances of side effects. These include the prescribed dose, the condition being treated, the age and sex of the patient, and other treatments which the patient may be taking, including herbal/ complementary medicines.

Medicines are very thoroughly trialled on thousands of people and must meet rigorous standards before they are licensed. When used more generally by a wider population, other side effects can come to light.

Drug safety science is the combination of many different aspect of science that will help answer why a particular drug causes a side-effect or Adverse Drug Reaction (ADR) in a particular patient.

Further Information

The Medical Research Council (MRC) together with the CDSS and Sense about Science have published a booklet entitled "Sense about Science. Making Sense of Drug Safety Science - Investigating the science of side effects." This booklet contains information about the work of drug safety scientists including the CDSS and features case studies.

View the Sense about Science booklet