The 20 Craziest Side Effects of Common Drugs

Including the one household pill that could literally burn you alive.

If we opened your medicine cabinet, what would we find? Probably your go-to brand of painkiller, maybe some prescription medication, and perhaps an anti-histamine. (Not to mention your luxurious grooming supples.) You may realize that even the most standard-issue, OTC  pills have side effects—headaches, drowsiness, nausea. But did you know that ibuprofen can give you ulcers so bad that you barf up a substance tantamount to coffee grounds? Or that the "four hours" rule can lead to a cripplingly devastating result? Read on, brother, and learn the 20 wildest, craziest, downright most terrifying side effects about what exists in your cabinet. And for more great health advice, learn the 10 best ways to lower your blood pressure without medicine.

Ibuprofen can burn you alive

ibuprofen painkiller painkillers

In incredibly rare cases—about five out of every million users—ibuprofen, the magical headache and inflammation cure-all, can cause Stevens Johnsons Syndrome (SJS). This condition causes blistering over the body. Patients who continue to ingest ibuprofen after being diagnosed with SJS can go on to develop something called toxic epidermal necrolysis, which causes third-degree burns all over the body—and is fatal in 30 percent of cases.

It can also make you throw up coffee

side effects coffee grounds ibuprofen

Oh, and ibuprofen can also cause a super rare, specific type of stomach ulcer that will cause you to vomit up a substance that resembles ground up coffee beans. (This is due to internal bleeding.) Between this, the third degree burns, and the fact that ibuprofen shortens your life span, we've never been so afraid of Advil.

Viagra can cause a serious amputation


You've heard it a million times: "Please consult with a doctor if you have an erection that lasts more than four hours." But what does it actually mean? A four-hour long erection, no matter how awesome that may sound, is a sign of priapism. In short, priapism (named after the Greek god of male fertility, Priapus, who was known for his permanent erection) means your penis's blood vessels refuse to relax. In super, super extreme cases, the penis will need to be amputated. (Seriously.) One alternative suggestion before forking out for the little-blue pill: some non-medicinal libido boosters.

Aspirin can leave you black and blue

bruise aspirin side effects

Blood-thinning medications—aspirin being the most common—can make random bruises appear on your body.

Penicillin could make you hallucinate

hallucination side effects

Penicillin is widely revered as the drug that heralded in the age of modern medicine. But what's not known is that it can take us back to the era of herbal drugs and remedies; the stuff can cause patients to experience—"hear, see, and feel"—things that aren't real.

It could also turn you yellow

side effects yellow skin

Also of note: Penicillin can give your skin and eyes a sickly yellow hue. It's rare, though; less than 0.2% of patients reported this side effect.

Naproxen could make you look like you drowned

Naxopren, which causes side effects.

Naproxen, a leading migraine medication and one of the most highly effective non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, can give you blue lips and fingernails.

And it could also make you blind…ish

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Furthermore, the stuff runs the risk of giving you red-green colorblindness.

The flu shot can give you hives

flu shot side effects

In rare cases, the flu shot—something, for the record, all of us should get every single year—can cause hives. According to the CDC, if you break out in hives after getting the shot, this means you're severely allergic to that particular year's batch, and should seek medical attention immediately.

Eye drops can give you…indigestion?

indigestion side effects

We're not really sure how this happens from a physiological standpoint, but Travoprost—a common eye drop for itchiness, pinkeye, and the like—has been linked to indigestion.

Ofloxacin can cause itching downtown

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Ofloxacin, the most common of ear infection, or "swimmers ear," drugs, has a strange side effect: It can cause genital itching. So when you say, "Babe, I got it from the pool, I swear," you're telling the truth. Though if you are, in fact, lying, maybe learn the best way to apologize to a woman scorned.

And can also cause serious mental anguish

mental anguish side effects

In more serious side effects, ofloxacin can cause temporary "confusion about identity, place, and time" and can also impede the ability to use or understand human language.

Dextamethorphan can cause street-drug-like effects

hallucination side effects cough syrup

If you ingest too much dextromethorphan—that's science-ese for "cough syrup"—you'll experience some fairly powerful hallucinations. Allegedly, these hallucinations come with temporary euphoria. Keep your kids away.

Anesthesia can mess you up for good


To this day, despite having used the stuff for nearly two centuries, doctors still don't fully know how anesthesia works. In particular, the medical community doesn't have a full understanding of the side effects. But according to a report in Scientific American, patients can suffer spurts of delirium, confusion, and memory loss entire years after being put under. To learn more about the debilitating effects of memory loss, read our landmark feature on Alzheimer's.

Testosterone will deplete your sperm count

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Testosterone, the increasingly popular drug that's supposed to make you stratospherically manlier, has the most ironic of side effects: It depletes your sperm count.

Prednisone can make you shorter

short man side effects

According to the Mayo Clinic, Prednisone, a common steroidal medication used to treat everything from asthma to gout to ulcerative colitis, can cause a decrease in height.

Sleeping pills will make you do inadvertent cardio

sleepwalking side effects

Sleeping pills will help you fall asleep—so asleep, in fact, that you may develop a case of parasomnia, or, as it's colloquially referred, "sleep walking." And for other crazy facts about those eight hours, read up on the 25 sleep myths that will knock you out.

Prozac can make you thirsty

bottled water side effects

In one of the strangest side effects out there—doctors don't entirely know why it occurs—prozac can give you a near unquenchable level of thirst. If you're on the stuff and find that this is the case, consider reaching for the bottled water that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson swears by.

Zyrtec can make it difficult to pee

peeing zyrtec side effects

Make sure you don't mix prozac and Zyrtec: patients of the popular anti-histamine have reported difficulty urinating. Combine that with the bottles of water that you're guzzling (due to the prozac), and that's a recipe for disaster. In fact, to avoid this problem altogether, why don't you try the 9 most effective ways to breathe easier during allergy season?

Alcohol can make your eyes wander

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Or so we've heard. But don't worry: We have the cure.

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Ari Notis
Ari is an editor specializing in news and lifestyle. Read more
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