Scientists can use data from Internet searches to learn about unreported side effects from prescription drugs, before they are found by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), The New York Times reports.
Researchers used automated software tools to study six million queries entered into Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft search engines in 2010. They focused on searches related to the antidepressant paroxetine and the cholesterol-lowering medication pravastatin, and found evidence the combination of the two drugs caused high blood sugar.
The results are published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.
The researchers, from Microsoft, Stanford and Columbia University, used techniques similar to those used by Google Flu Trends, which provides early warning of influenza prevalence, based on online searches.
They found people who searched for both paroxetine and pravastatin over the course of one year were significantly more likely to search for terms related to high blood sugar, compared with those who searched for just one of the medications. People who conducted searches for symptoms related to both drugs were likely to do so in a short-time period. They found 30 percent did conduct the searches the same day, 40 percent in the same week and 50 percent in the same month.
The researchers said the automated tools they used would be a valuable addition to the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System, which obtains data on side effects through physician reports.