Isotretinoin is a serious drug with potential severe side effects. I am sharing my journey to help those who have been prescribed it, are thinking of taking it or for those that want to read about other experiences and advice from a patient’s point of view. I am not a doctor or a pharmacist, and I am not going to write about my journey from a medical point of view. My journey will be tracked from the perspective of a patient, which will make my decisions, my experience and my results subjective, personal and for informational purposes only. Please consult your doctor about any health-related issues.
Making the decision to start taking Isotretinoin (commonly known as Roaccutane or Accutane) is extremely difficult, especially if you are a woman. Due to its teratogen effect (causes birth defects) women are highly discouraged to take this treatment. I was discouraged by most people because of this, which is not really fair, considering the fact that not every girl’s dream is to have a baby in their early 20s.
On top of this first warning, Isotretinoin can have other severe side effects, from changes in liver function and cholesterol levels to mood swings. Please consult qualified specialists to find out about all the potential side effects of the drug. This blog post is intended to be informative without touching specialised information. You need to consult a specialist regarding your health issues and if you can take Isotretinoin.
In the short term, it can really sound like a nightmare but don’t panic. Talk to your doctor about your concerns and I am sure you will get many positive and reassuring answers. Prevention is the key to most side effects, such as contraceptives and a detailed routine to keep your mind and body at peace.
Getting my head around all the information about Isotretinoin was extremely difficult and so I want to write about the factors that you should keep in mind when making your decision.
When you read information online from various websites you certainly panic and get scared, as all the side effects are presented at once, without much background to it. I would recommend watching videos and read testimonials of treatments from patients – if you are a woman stick to women, if you are a man, stick to men. My bias to gender is that women have a much harder time during the treatment than men, due to monthly pregnancy tests, signatures and forms against pregnancies, hormonal changes due to compulsory contraceptive pills during the treatment and so on. As a male patient you skip all these.
You will be able to understand the steps of the treatment by reading and listening to various patients’ experiences. It might be difficult to find out such specific details, but if you have been taking the contraceptive pill before Isotretinoin, try listen to people who have done the same, to be able to listen to an experience as closely as yours will be as possible. Also, be attentive of the daily dosage the person is taking, as you cannot compare the experiences of a person who takes 20mg with one that takes 80mg a day (which is so common in the States).
Keeping these details in mind, please think of the following:
You will have monthly appointments with your dermatologist, and in the UK for example, you can’t really choose the date and time, as waiting times are very long. This means that if you cannot accept the date and time they choose for you, you will have to wait several days if not weeks in order to receive another appointment. Be aware of this, as you will most likely need time off work that one day a month. Also, be careful about planning long holidays abroad etc. as you will have to attend the appointments and blood tests.
For UK residents: Be also aware of the fact that you need to make your appointments to the Dermatology clinic, not to your GP. You can only pick up your prescription from their pharmacy. If you are a woman, you can only pick up your prescription within seven days. If you do not pick it up in seven days, you have to go to another appointment in order to repeat the pregnancy test. In Aberdeen, waiting times at the hospital’s pharmacy can vary between 15 min to one hour.
With a small dosage you can still work all day and walk long distances etc., however, it is not recommended that you undertake strenuous tasks during the treatment. A job that requires standing up or lots of walking will make you sore, but it can be done, however, pay attention if your hobbies include sports or if you have important competitions coming up (I doubt a marathon is recommended or possible, for example). I have not gone to the gym during my treatment, as my body would get sore from simple tasks, like walking or cleaning.
It is free to do the treatment in the UK, the appointments, the blood work and the medicine being all free. However, in other countries it can cost a lot, Isotretinoin not being the cheapest drug. You will also require a solid skincare routine, sun creams, strong moisturizers etc. and new makeup. Most people that take Isotretinoin had very oily skin and hair before the treatment. During the treatment you will need to purchase different makeup, different creams, different hair products, all for very dry skin and hair.
Also, your diet is important, make sure you are able to eat well, relatively healthy, not skip meals and have lots of fruits and liquids. Your treatment is not the time to eat only fast-food and quick meals.
Pregnancy and Contraception (Women only)
You cannot take this treatment if you plan on getting pregnant in the near future or if you are breastfeeding. You need to discuss about this to your doctor.
You will be required to use two forms of contraception during the treatment. You will need to discuss this first with your GP, as in the UK you are required to start the contraceptive methods BEFORE you actually start the Isotretinoin treatment. It is usually expected that you will use one hormonal method, such as the pill. This means that the treatment is a lot more complicated for a woman than for a man, as hormonal contraceptives have their huge list of side effects as well.
UV radiation and sunny weather
It is recommended to do the treatment during the colder months of the year, so you avoid exposure to the sun as much as possible. If, for example, is spring time and you are thinking of taking Isotretinoin, maybe try and wait until autumn. Don’t worry too much about these if you live in Scotland though! (Joke Award)
Do not plan your dream holiday to Hawaii or any other warm paradise during your treatment, as you are not allowed to sun bathe.
To be continued…
Next Post will be about the process of getting Isotretinoin prescribed in the UK and what would it mean.