Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Ask your doctor about potential side effects of a medicine.

Ask your doctor about potential side effects of a medicine.
beginning of content

Medicine and side effects

3-minute read

Side effects are unwanted effects of a medicine. All medicines can cause side effects. It’s important to know the side effects of your medicines so that you know what to do if you get them.

What are medicine side effects?

Any unwanted or unexpected effects of a medicine are called side effects. They are also sometimes called adverse effects or adverse reactions.

Side effects can also include:

  • interactions with other medicines or food
  • the medicine not working well

Not all side effects are serious. Most are mild, although some medicines have serious side effects. These medicines are usually prescribed for serious health conditions.

You can often avoid side effects by taking the medicine exactly according to the instructions, for example after eating food, or at a certain time of the day.

What types of medicines can cause side effects?

All types of medicines can have side effects. This includes prescription medicines and over-the-counter medicines that you can buy from a pharmacy, supermarket or other shops. Vitamins and minerals can also have side effects, as can any herbal, complementary, alternative or natural medicine.

Even though all medicines can cause side effects, not everyone will get them.

Where to get information on side effects

For information about potential side effects, speak to your doctor or pharmacist.

Here are some questions you might want ask.

  • What are the possible side effects of the medicine?
  • How commonly do the side effects happen?
  • Does the medicine have any serious side effects, and what’s the risk?
  • What can I do to avoid or reduce the risk of side effects?
  • Do the side effects get better with time?
  • What should I do if I think I’m having a side effect?

You can also get information on side effects from the medicine’s Consumer Medicine Information (CMI) leaflet, which is available from your pharmacist for all prescription and some non-prescription medicines. You can also search for CMIs in healthdirect's medicines section.

Thinking about side effects

If you are thinking about starting a new medicine, it is worth thinking about the side effects. How common are they? How serious are they? And what do they mean to you?

This is especially important if you have a serious health condition and the medicines might have serious side effects.

How to get help if you have side effects

If anything worries you after taking your medicine, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. You can also call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak to a registered nurse.

If you think you might be having a serious side effect, see your doctor or hospital immediately.

For life-threatening emergencies, call triple zero (000).

Looking for more medicine information?

healthdirect’s medicines section allows you to search for medicines by brand name or active ingredient. It provides useful information about medicines such as their use, whether they are available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and product recalls.

Last reviewed: March 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Adverse reactions to alternative medicines - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

Adverse reactions to complementary and alternative medicines (CAM)

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Adverse Drug Reactions | myVMC

Medical health information: Adverse drug reaction to new and mixtures of prescription medicine side effects or adverse prescription drug reactions

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Side effects of Medicines

Side effects are unwanted effects that can happen while you are taking a medicine.

Read more on website

Medicines for your child

Here is some practical and reliable advice about giving your sick infant or child medicine, including what is the right dosage and possible side effects.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Practical Ways to Manage Medicines

Practical Ways to Manage Medicines

Read more on CareSearch website

Clinical trials (medicine testing) information video | myVMC

Clinical trials are a type of research done to test medicines and determine their side effects, safety and effectiveness.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Managing your medicines | Consumer Info | Medical Info | NPS MedicineWise

Learn about how to manage your medicines to get the best results, & reduce the risk of side effects & interactions.

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Things to ask your GP - ADF - Alcohol & Drug Foundation

We have a problem in Australia with the over prescription of some medications, causing many of us unnecessary side effects including addiction and overdose

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

Audiogram & Cisplatinum Hearing Tests - Information - CanTeen

An audiogram is a test which evaluates your hearing. Some drugs require a number of tests due to loss of hearing side effects. Learn more with CanTeen AU.

Read more on CanTeen website

Diabact UBT -

Diabact UBT - Consumer Medicines Information leaflets of prescription and over-the-counter medicines

Read more on myDr – Consumer Medicine Information website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo