In medicine, a side effect is an effect, whether therapeutic or adverse, that is secondary to the one intended; although the term is predominantly employed to describe adverse effects, it can also apply to beneficial, but unintended, consequences of the use of a drug. Developing drugs is a complicated process, because no two people are exactly the same, so even drugs that have virtually no side effects, might be difficult for some people. Also, it is difficult to make a drug that targets one part of the body but that does not affect other parts, the fact that increases the risk of side effects in the untargeted parts.
Occasionally, drugs are prescribed or procedures performed specifically for their side effects; in that case, said side effect ceases to be a side effect and is now an intended effect. For instance, X-rays were historically (and are currently) used as an imaging technique; the discovery of their oncolytic capability led to their employ in radiotherapy (ablation of malignant tumours).
The World Health Organization and other health organisations characterise the probability or chance of experiencing side effects as:
The European Commission recommends that the list should contain only effects where "at least a reasonable possibility" exists that it is caused by the drug and the frequency "should represent crude incidence rates (and not differences or relative risks calculated against placebo or other comparator)". That is, the frequency describes how often symptoms appear after taking the drug, not caused by the drug. Both health care providers and lay people misinterpret the frequency of side effects as describing the increase in frequency caused by the drug.
See also: Serendipity
Main article: Adverse effect
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