Empirical data: The Contraceptive pill

We took all the anecdotes about women’s experiences of the contraceptive pill and fed them into Wordle. You can see a larger version here.

Take a look at the above picture. The size of the words depends on how many times they cropped up in the text I fed into Wordle – a website which generates images like these.

The text was based on a combination of short and long interviews with women who had experienced either lightly or severely the side effects of the contraceptive pill.

The larger the word, the more times it occurred in the text. This graphic summarises well how most women feel about the side effects of the contraceptive pill – “started” being the largest, describing the concern at strange and unexpected side effects arising from something as everyday as the contraceptive pill. “Changed” is fairly large as well, as are “mood” and “rash”  – two of the side effects which cropped up in our study.

“Brand” and “packet” are fairly prominent, showing the extent to which switching brands until you find the one that works for you is an integral part of taking the contraceptive pill.

Keep reading for the full testimonies of a side effect:

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Side effects on a daily basis: The contraceptive pill

Cerazette is one of the most effective progesterone-only pills. Photo: Rachel Hall

Leading science journal Nature recently reported that progress had been made in the development of a non-hormonal contraceptive pill.

This is something many women will be happy about.

From being the symbol of female sexual liberation in the 60s, to becoming the bane of many women’s lives for its range of side effects – the little white pill has had a long and tumultuous journey. Continue reading

A great graphic, spoiled slightly

The Side Effect Spy having reported on the swine flu vaccine Pandemrix a while ago, the below infographic by David McCandless had to make an appearance.

Though published in November 2009 – before the link between H1N1 vaccine Pandemrix and Narcolepsy began mading headlines – the graphic is a good attempt at visualising data on many of the issues facing people considering being vaccinated against swine flu. Continue reading

Permanent sexual dysfunction linked to hair loss treatment

Could medicines be causing sexual dysfunction? Source:erectiledysfunction-info.blogspot.com

New research suggests two drugs used to treat hair loss and swollen prostate gland may cause permanent side effects.

Men who have taken finasteride (brand name Proscar) or dutasteride (brand name Avodart) have reported erectile dysfunction, depression and loss of libido, according to research released in this month’s Journal of Sexual Health. Continue reading

How do you figure out which drugs (almost) definitely cause side effects?

Data journalism can be produced either through  having a story in mind and looking for the data to prove it, or finding some data and finding the story in it.

Figuring out the drugs which (almost) definitely cause side effects was the result of investigating  a dataset, rather than explicitly setting out to prove something.

We thought there must be some interesting information to be gained from the downloadable datasets on side effect resource SIDER. What we ended up was the visualisation pictured below and this article on some of the most dangerous drugs.

The finished result: an interactive graph displaying the drugs which cause the most side effects in the highest number of cases. The subsections of the bubbles represent each individual side effect, click here to see the interactive graph. Source: ManyEyes

Here is a step-by-step account of our work from downloading the data to making the visualisation.

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Testimony of a side effect: “I didn’t want to go outside because my face looked absolutely awful”

Madeleine after the side effects of Cerazette had disappeared. Source: Catinka Sjoberg

Madeleine, 25, had been taking Cerazette, a contraceptive pill, for over two years.

But this year she stopped taking the pills because she realised she was experiencing side effects.

Because of what happened to her she has decided to not take the pills anymore – being “pill free” for over a year has changed a lot for her. Continue reading

Interview: Identifying and evaluating side effects

All drugs can cause side effects. Simple. But knowing which drugs to give the all clear and which to throw on the scrap heap is complicated. Scientists working in the field of pharmacology are presented with this problem daily, meaning that more the data and information they have, the safer drugs will be.

Dr Jeffrey Aronson is the editor of Side Effects of Drugs Annual, the most comprehensive survey of pharmacology research in the world. He has over thirty years experience in the field and explained to the Side Effects Spy how drugs are analysed using what he calls the ‘benefit to harm balance’.

“No effective drug is free of adverse effects. But if the likely benefit outweighs the likely harm, you may be prepared to take a chance of the harm in return for the hope of benefit”. Continue reading