Iatrogenic Illness: Unveiling the Hidden Dangers and Adverse Effects of Medical Care

In modern society, medical interventions have revolutionized healthcare and significantly improved patient outcomes. However, it is important to acknowledge that medical treatments are not without risks. Iatrogenic illness, defined as illness or harm caused by medical intervention, is an issue that deserves attention. In particular, adverse effects associated with prescription drugs have been identified as a significant contributor to iatrogenic deaths. This article aims to provide an in-depth exploration of iatrogenic illness, focusing on the role of prescription drugs as a leading cause of death in the United States. To support these claims, several studies will be cited to shed light on the scope and impact of this issue.

Understanding Iatrogenic Illness: Iatrogenic illness refers to unintended consequences resulting from medical intervention. It encompasses a wide range of adverse outcomes, including complications from surgeries, hospital-acquired infections, medication errors, and adverse drug reactions. While medical interventions aim to improve patient health, these unintended consequences can sometimes lead to significant harm or even death.

Iatrogenic Illness as a Leading Cause of Death in the United States: Various studies have demonstrated the significant impact of iatrogenic illness on mortality rates in the United States. A groundbreaking study conducted by Dr. Barbara Starfield published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2000 estimated that iatrogenic causes contribute to 225,000 deaths annually, making it the third leading cause of death in the United States at that time. This study emphasized the need for comprehensive data collection and interventions to improve patient safety.

Adverse Effects of Prescription Drugs: Prescription drugs play a vital role in modern healthcare, enabling the effective management of various medical conditions. However, it is important to recognize that these medications can also have adverse effects that contribute to iatrogenic illness and death. A study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 2018 analyzed data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS) and found that adverse drug reactions accounted for 2.2 million serious injuries and approximately 106,000 deaths annually in the United States.

Moreover, a comprehensive review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2019 revealed that medication-related problems, including adverse drug reactions, medication errors, and nonadherence, contribute to more than one million emergency department visits and approximately 125,000 deaths each year in the United States.

The Role of Drug Monitoring Programs: To address the issue of adverse effects associated with prescription drugs, various initiatives have been implemented to improve drug safety and monitoring. The Sentinel Initiative, established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), utilizes large-scale electronic healthcare data to monitor the safety of drugs and identify potential risks. This program aims to enhance the detection and evaluation of adverse drug reactions, facilitating timely interventions and improved patient safety.

Iatrogenic illness poses a significant threat to patient safety, with prescription drug-related adverse effects being a leading cause of death in the United States. Understanding the scope and impact of iatrogenic illness is crucial for healthcare providers, policymakers, and patients alike. Continued efforts to improve drug safety, enhance monitoring programs, and promote patient education are essential in mitigating the risks associated with iatrogenic illness and ensuring safer medical care.


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  5. The Sentinel Initiative. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed June 10, 2023. https://www.fda.gov/safety/fdas-sentinel-initiative
  6. FDA Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed June 10, 2023. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/surveillance/fda-adverse-event-reporting-system-faers
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