Isotretinoin, more commonly known as Accutane is a drug prescribed for severe acne, usually as a last resort in the treatment of skin cysts that would otherwise leave the patient with scarring on the upper torso, neck and face. This drug has been proven to cause birth defects in the fetuses of women who are pregnant. Therefore, it must not be taken by women who are or who intend to become pregnant. Doctors who prescribe this medication must monitor their patients very carefully, and it is not recommended for women who are sexually active or who are of childbearing age. In fact, patients must sign a waiver, acknowledging the risks and, in effect, promising not to become pregnant while on the drug. Doctors are required to administer pregnancy tests during the dosage period to ensure that the patient has not become pregnant while on the drug. Proven birth defects include mental retardation and severe physical malformations.
Other common side effects for the patient taking the drug include, dry skin, nose, mouth, and eyes. Many patients find it helpful to keep a supply of ointment handy for the lips and nose, as well as lotions for the skin. Nosebleeds may occur, and the skin may become thin and fragile. The patient should be careful to apply sunblock when skin is exposed to the sun as the skin is more vulnerable to sunburn. While introducing the drug, the patient might notice an increase in acne, which will lessen over time until the curative effect is noted.
Other, less common side effects include, joint pain, chest pain, and pain in the lower back and abdomen. Fatigue, headache, nausea, and problems with vision that may include sensitivity to light and to contact use have also been reported. Night vision may show impairment while using Accutane. In rare cases the drug has been shown to cause irritable or inflamed bowels. If diarrhea or bleeding from the rectum occurs, a doctor should be consulted immediately. Emotional disturbances have been noted with the use of Accutane, including irritability, depression, and in some extreme but rare cases, suicidal thoughts and feelings. Patients who are taking Accutane should not donate blood while on the drug.