August 9, 2019
Antidepressants are dispensed by doctors like a cure-all candy. In the United States, about 11% of the population is taking an antidepressant. It is a booming business for big pharma.
What the medical system rarely talks about is how some people become brain injured - sometimes permanently - from the toxic effects of the medication - this is called neurotoxicity, or Toxic Encephalopathy.
In this episode of Medical Error Interviews, I chat with “Conrad” about how he went from a physically fit father with a very successful career, to a victim that has been disabled by medical error, ignorance and ego.
Conrad’s doctor dismissed his reports of side effects from the medication, erroneously attributing them to anxiety, and instead doubled Conrad’s dose. This would prove to be catastrophic to Conrad’s long term health.
“Conrad” is not his real name, he is using a pseudonym to protect himself from further harm by the medical industry. But his experience should be a warning for any one who has been prescribed an antidepressant.
SHOW NOTES: Conrad: Neurotoxicity - brain injury caused by antidepressant
Conrad - physically fit father with successful career
"Conrad" (a pseudonym to protect his identity from further medical harm) grew up in Chicago - fantastic childhood - a lot of friends, not the best student, but into sports, typical boy in 70s and 80s
Graduated high school 1985 - went to college, more playing less studying - very social guy, built friendships and relationships - decided didn't need to finish college and would go into sales
Started simple phone sales, but quickly into technology and telecommunications during the tech boom - worked for MCI
- went into software industry in the 90s for several years - evolved into IT consulting up to 2015 - focusing on outsourcing, working for 3rd largest consulting company in the world until became disabled in 2015.
In 2006, traveling more due to job advancement - never a fan of turbulence, make him uneasy - at that time only psychiatrists could prescribe a SSRI medication antidepressant
- Conrad took the medication, not sure the medication helped, but getting used to frequency of flying helped - continued to progress in sales career until 2015 as mid-level sales executive specializing in outsourcing
In 2015 started struggling with his health - in and out of emergency rooms - at one point ER docs thought he had a stroke - ran a bunch of tests and got a diagnosis of hyponatremia
- also known as SIADH
- occurs mid-life with brain injuries - as an adverse effect of an SSRI or antidepressant - it is salt balancing in the brain and can cause a lot of neurological problems
His doctor told Conrad to stop antidepressant as they concluded it was causing his symptoms - stopped in SSRI mid 2015, but symptoms did not go away, they were chronic - hyponatremia is well known side effect of SSRI
Conrad experienced headaches, balance issues, confusion, a general unwell feeling - not enough to disable, but indication of what the medication was doing to Conrad - started the med in 2006 - but the side effects had been building the last few years
Stopped the med and struggled for a few months with the hyponatremia
symptoms - Conrad had been offered the perfect job for his skills, and was the cieling in his career, with good salary and bonus structure - went to his PCP (Primary Care Physician) to get better and fix what was going on with medical issues - PCP suggested going back on the SSRI
This is the point where story gets a lot worse - Conrad not sure why he's prescribed antidepressant for anxiety (flying, speaking in front of large audience) - but he trusts the doctor - also gave him benzos
for those extra bumpy flights which he never took
Re-started SSRI meds, but this time the previous hyponatremia symptoms much worse - severe headaches, agitation type anxiety, severe exhaustion, insomnia - like being plugged into electrical outlet - called PCP's nurse to say something is not right with this med - she asked doctor and called Conrad back and cussed him out, saying these were normal side effects, you're dealing with anxiety and, as per the doctor, you need to double your dose.
So PCP ignored adverse effects and instead doubled the dose - within 24 hours, the headache was "unbelievable", like a "vise grip around my skull" - Conrad has worked out every day for 35 years - so thought he could sweat out the toxicity by going to the gym
Backing out of garage took off antenna and garage door, so working out wasn't a good idea - because confused, cognitive impairment - went back to doctor - experiencing adverse chemical effect causing anxiety - the doctor says Conrad cast too complex, but doesn't admit the SSRI is causing problems - suggested a psychiatrist
Conrad went to the psychiatrist and within 5 minutes she diagnosed him with panic disorder
- she ignored all the physical symptoms and only concentrated on the one emotional symptom of anxiety - made a ridiculous statement like 'you're revisiting your mother's death in the 1990s' - so now being misdiagnosed with a mental health illness he didn't have
Conrad had to turn down the job offer because he still couldn't work so had to go on disability for 'anxiety disorder' - continued to see doctors to find out what was physically wrong - was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome
, with fibromyalgia
- but these were symptoms of something more complex
All the doctors in the medical group wanted nothing to do with questioning SSRI medication, they would end the appointment, did not want to talk about it - so they tested for MS (Multiple Sclerosis
), and they found brain lesions but classified as 'unspecified medical condition' on MRI
report, and not consistent with MS - when Conrad said that SSRI can cause brain lesions, but the doctors are rejecting it and say can't help you
Kicked off disability - now no way to support family, children - kept researching online and found condition called 'neurotoxicity
' also called 'toxic encephalopathy
' - can be caused by meds - Conrad starts looking for specialist - but also wanted more imaging before seeing specialist - suggested a brain Spect scan
that showed low blood flow and toxic neuro inflammatory process in every lobe of his brain
results indicated brain injury - so Conrad had 3 images showing dysfunction - indicating neuro toxicity - at this point couldn't operate car, read books, follow tv, pay the bills, fatigue, weakness - Conrad had stopped the SSRI shortly after seeing the psychiatrist, but on the advice of another doctor - so was on the SSRI for 2 months
Flew for appointment with famous forensic neuropsychologist / neurotoxicologist Dr Raymond Singer
, studies the effect of chemicals on the nervous system - his research had found SSRI can cause side effects - he used more objective evidence and full medical background review, tested Conrad for malingering and was able to prove that Conrad had a toxic exposure
Found that Conrad had extreme deficits in information processing, short term memory impacted and executive functioning impacted - but Conrad's speech and long term memory not affected - but can't watch movie, or drive car - consistent with neurotoxicity - 16 hours of evaluation by Dr Singer and Conrad was diagnosed with toxic encephalopathy and medication induced major neurocognitive disorder
Fatigue and pain symptoms affect entire nervous system - validation by Dr Singer's report was huge, concluded Conrad was disabled from employment - his insurance reinstated his disability payments, a huge stress relief
Today Conrad's symptoms are worse because the condition has progressed - has to go for re-testing with Dr Singer to measure Conrad's changes - also sees MD who treats holistically with symptoms
Nothing helps alleviate his symptoms of headache and cognitive impairment, fatigue and pain - impacts every area of his life: physically, emotionally, financially, relationships - disability only pays a fraction of what he used to earn - can't hop in the car to visit his children, can't work out, can't walk the dog, can't read books, can't watch tv - has been trying to spread awareness
Data Shows the Danger
Frustrated with the medical community - there are 1000s of people who have been affected by medications, but rejected and denied by their doctors - they are heavily influenced by the pharmaceuticcal industry - as a result they are not supporting their patients - they don't know what drugs do
From Conrad's research, psychiatric medications are the most dangerous - they cause dementia
, neurotoxicity - just about all of the do - suicide is a black box warning on some - antibiotics and statins can be dangerous - certain classes more dangerous than others - if people looked at independent research journals, not funded by the pharmaceutical industry, they would find that data showing the danger
Conrad says when he got sick 6 years ago, there was no information on the internet regarding damaging effects, now there is an article every day - overwhelming info just on the SSRI class of meds - opening people's eyes how the pharmaceutical and medical industries operate, and work too closely - because of social media, things can change, people are becoming more aware
Re class action lawsuits, but it is very difficult for a small law firm to go up against a large pharma - but hard to build momentum, but gaining ground - but there are whistleblower doctors writing books showing brain imaging and linking them to mitochondria damage, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, neurotoxicity - doctors from each drug class are coming forward
But for lawyers it very hard to win - expensive, $100k just for discovery in a lawsuit - there is also statute of limitations for suing a doctor, and that limit is 2 years - Conrad was diagnosed more than 2 years after he was injured - this is the dance doctors do - doctors don't want to say a drug caused an injury, they don't want to get into conflict with their colleague - there is some code going on there, that leaves people very vulnerable
The trauma of his symptoms was deepened by the way the medical system responded - when a doctor denies symptoms or side effects it causes stress - and when they do harm, they don't stand behind it - there are 1000s that have been harmed and doctors have turned their back on them
Conrad Hopes for Recovery
Conrad lives day to day, trying to get better - working with a physician familiar toxic encephalopathy and praying - she says Conrad is permanently disabled, but he's hoping there is something - people talk about hyperbaric, maybe stem cells someday - he's optimistic - but there is not a pill that will fix what he has, it was a pill that got him here
Conrad was perfectly healthy before he went to the pyschiatrist - was not in habit of going to the doctor - even when his nose was broken - and when he finally started to go to a doctor, they gave him a pill that made him chronically ill - sometimes its best to stay out of the doctor's office
Conrad says even the warning inserts with medications only list the mild side effects, they don't mention neurotoxicity, toxic encephalopathy or brain damage unless the FDA
tells them to
Dealing with grief is hard - personal relationships affected - can't go out and have a beer with friends, can't go to football game - misses his sons the most, they were his best friends, they did so much together - they won't understand until they're adults - but hopes one day they read the 73 page report that shows exactly what happened to him
Raising awareness is one way Conrad deals with grief - talking to his sons, and seeing them doing well in school and activities is what he looks forward to - prays one day the will understand how this missed out on their highly functioning father
Conrad says if you suspect you have this injury, they should contact Dr Raymond Singer if the prescribing doctor is pushing back - Dr Singer is like Erin Brockovich
, he's involved in testifying in court cases representing people injured by chemicals - he can making diagnosis, and that will get respect from other doctors and they won't say its a mental illness - doctors are our equal - used to think doctors are above us
Doctors know their field, but they do not know medications - and if they're telling you something you don't agree with, push back, do your own research, and stand up for yourself
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Medical Errors Interview podcast host Scott Simpson and counsellor at RemediesCounseling.com
A safe space for victims and survivors of medical error.