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Unreported Drug Side Effects Found Using Internet Data

Using data from Google, Microsoft and Yahoo search engines, researchers have found evidence of unreported prescription drug side effects before they were found by the Food and Drug Administration.

Using automated software tools, scientists from Microsoft, Stanford and Columbia University examined queries by six million Internet users taken from web search logs in 2010, related to antidepressant, paroxetine, and a cholesterol lowering drug, pravastatin. They found evidence that the combination of the two drugs caused high blood sugar.

The study is based on data-mining techniques similar to those employed by services like Google Flu Trends, which has been used to give early warning of the prevalence of the sickness of the public. The study, published in the Journal of the American medical Informatics Association, explored whether there was a more immediate and more accurate way to gain access to data similar to what the F.D.A. had access to.

The scientists at Microsoft were able to explore 82 million individual searches for drug, symptom and condition information. They determined that people who searched for both drugs during the 12-month period were more like to search for terms related to hyperglycemia, compare to those who searched for just one of the drugs.

The researchers are now thinking of how to add new sources of information like behavioral data and information from social media sources. Researchers also believe it could be a valuable tool for the F.D.A. to add to its current system for tracking adverse effects.

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Source: The New York Times, “Unreported Side Effects of Drugs Are Found Using Internet Search Data, Study Finds,” March, 6, 2013.

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