How our Google search results can flag up adverse side-effects of medicines BEFORE doctors and drug companies
Bad reactions to medicines often flagged up after drug is widely available But analysing internet searches could identify problems much earlierResearchers found many were searching for side-effect of taking two drugs
The harmful interaction between the two was later confirmed by doctors
12:59 GMT, 7 March 2013
14:03 GMT, 7 March 2013
Internet users can play a pivotal role in flagging up new side-effects of drugs after they go on sale, a study has found.
Researchers found analysing web searches revealed patients taking a combination of two drugs were concerned about symptoms that had been unknown to the manufacturers.
The team from Microsoft and Stanford University said people taking a popular antidepressant along with a cholesterol-lowering drug were more likely to search about symptoms related to high blood sugar, such as blurry vision.
This side-effect, which hadn't been spotted in medical trials, was later confirmed by health officials.
Internet users are providing vital early clues that drugs have adverse side-effects, well before doctors identify them
Bad reactions to medicines, known as 'adverse drug events' are often
only discovered once a drug has been put on the market and taken by many thousands of people.
But the authors of the study say online searches about medicines could help health officials monitor drug safety.
Using information from Google, Microsoft and Yahoo
search engines, the researchers detected evidence of
unreported prescription drug side-effects before they were found by the Food and Drug Administration’s warning system.
Although drugs have to pass numerous stringent tests, rarer side effects are often only
picked up once the drug has been taken by large numbers of people.
Delay: Bad reactions to medicines, known as 'adverse drug events', are often only discovered once a drug has been put on the market
As a result, it can take a while for effects to become known, as it relies on
individuals informing drugs regulators.
The new study was undertaken after the researchers wondered whether there was a quicker and more reliable way to log adverse reactions.
They did this by examining anonymised search logs of millions of U.S web users, who
agreed to install a browser add-on and share their online searches with
Microsoft throughout 2010.
More than 82million drug, symptom and condition queries from among six million web users were examined.
The researchers analysed the queries of people who searched for
information on the antidepressant paroxetine and the cholesterol-lowering
the time, it was not known that taking both of these drugs could cause
high blood sugar (hyperglycemia).
People who looked up both drugs online were almost twice as likely to
search for terms associated with high blood sugar as were those who
looked up the drugs separately.
The authors of the study, published in the Journal of the American
Medical Informatics Association, suggested that a system to monitor web searches could
provide a new kind of early warning system to boost drug safety.
'There is a potential public health benefit in listening to such signals, and integrating them with other sources of information,' they said.
'We see a potentially valuable signal, even though search logs are unstructured, not necessarily related to health, and can include any words entered by users.'