Drug-induced Gastrointestinal Disorders

Linda G. Tolstoi, RPh, MS, MEd


June 26, 2002

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


The gastrointestinal tract is frequently the site of complications resulting from prescription and over-the-counter drug use. If unrecognized or untreated, over time, these complications have the potential to affect nutritional status. Healthcare professionals need to be aware of the drugs commonly implicated in causing gastrointestinal complaints in order to prevent long-term complications. Patients should be alerted to the early warning signs of drug-induced gastrointestinal disorders so that they can seek care and prevent long-term complications.


In the United States, the 1.5 billion or more prescriptions dispensed each year play an important role in managing disease.[1] However, medications are associated with an increasing incidence of drug-induced (iatrogenic) complications. The gastrointestinal tract (GI) is frequently the site of such complications.[1] According to one study, the gastrointestinal tract was associated with 20% to 40% of the drug-induced adverse effects.[2]

Many gastrointestinal side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, dyspepsia, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, or constipation, occur without any identifiable lesion or cause.[1] Usually, these effects are transient and resolve shortly after the drug is discontinued. However, there are some widely prescribed drugs that cause serious and lasting adverse effects (mucosal ulceration, stricture, or increased susceptibility to pseudomembranous colitis).[1,3] In some situations, the adverse effects are worse than the illness for which the drug was prescribed.[1]

This review provides an overview of some common drug-induced gastrointestinal effects. Over time, these adverse effects may impact a patient's nutritional status. The elderly are most susceptible to these effects.


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