Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Drug Warnings: Is My Medicine Safe?


Am Fam Physician. 2010 Feb 1;81(3):304.

  See related article on FDA boxed warnings.

Reports about potentially dangerous medicines seem to always be in the news. All of this information can be confusing and overwhelming. How can you be sure that your medicines are safe to take? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (or FDA) is the government agency that approves over-the-counter and prescription medicines. A medicine has to be tested for many years before it can be sold. Even after a medicine has been approved, the FDA continues to make sure that it is safe. If the FDA is concerned about a medicine, it will issue a warning. In some cases the FDA will decide that the medicine can no longer be sold.

What is a black box warning?

A black box warning (also called a boxed warning) is the most serious warning issued by the FDA. It is used to warn patients and doctors about serious side effects of a certain medicine.

Can I still take a medicine if it has a black box warning?

Yes. A black box warning is only to alert you and your doctor that the FDA is looking into a possible side effect. This side effect may be rare, or it may not apply to you. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about your medicine. The benefit you are getting from the medicine may be more important than the side effect.

What is a medication guide?

A medication guide is a handout that your pharmacist will give you if your medicine might cause serious side effects. Most medicines with black box warnings have a medication guide. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about what you read in a medication guide.

What should I do if I hear about one of my medicines on the news?

Write down as much information about the report as you can remember. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Don't stop taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Where can I get accurate information about my medicines?

Your doctor or pharmacist

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Web site:

Consumer Reports

Web site:

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2010 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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Dec 1, 2020

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