What are the Most Common Isotretinoin Side Effects?

Debra Durkee

Isotretinoin is a prescription medication that helps reduce acne by interfering with the production and excretion of bodily chemicals that are responsible for the formation of acne. It has a number of different side effects, including mild joint pain, fatigue, dry skin and symptoms that mimic the common cold. Some side effects are common enough and severe enough that regular meetings with a medical professional are required to continue taking the prescription; these include changes in vision, vomiting, seizures and chest pain — all of which should be immediately reported to the prescribing physician. Pre-existing or newly forming conditions also may make isotretinoin side effects worse.

Isotretinoin joint pain, fatigue, and symptoms similar to those of the common cold.
Isotretinoin joint pain, fatigue, and symptoms similar to those of the common cold.

Most of the common isotretinoin side effects are minor. These can include fatigue and drowsiness, which can also be accompanied by back pain. Sometimes, there may also be instances of joint pain. This side effect can be mild, but in some individuals this can develop into a more serious side effect. If the afflicted joints become stiff and difficult to move, fractured joints or pain that spreads into the nearby bones also become possible.

Isotretinoin may help reduce acne.
Isotretinoin may help reduce acne.

The medication impacts the chemicals that are responsible for controlling secretions and skin conditions, so many of the common isotretinoin side effects involve the skin. Skin may become extremely dry and cracked, especially in areas around the mouth and eyes as well as on the hands. There may be changes in the color of the skin as well, and even if it does not become dry enough to crack, it may begin to peel, as if it were sunburned.

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In extreme cases, isotretinoin side effects may include headaches and vision problems.
In extreme cases, isotretinoin side effects may include headaches and vision problems.

There may also be changes in the texture of the lips, fingernails and toenails, as well as in the skin around them. In most cases, these side effects will fade as the body adjusts to the medication, but they should be reported to a medical professional if they do not. Other common isotretinoin side effects include abnormal sweating; feeling flushed; and cold symptoms, such as a runny nose and fatigue.

Severe depression and even suicidal thoughts have been reported in isotretinoin users.
Severe depression and even suicidal thoughts have been reported in isotretinoin users.

Other isotretinoin side effects can be serious and should be reported to a medical professional as soon as they manifest. Seizures, headaches, vomiting, difficulty communicating, or vision problems can all be indicators that the body is having a negative reaction to the medication. There have been cases wherein an individual has developed numb areas, chest pains, difficulty breathing and an irregular heartbeat; these are all less common but more serious side effects.

Some individuals have experienced allergic reactions to the medication as well. This usually results in a change of prescription, as the side effects can be serious. They can include difficulty breathing because of a swollen, constricted airway as well as the appearance of hives.

Dry, cracked skin may be a side effect of isotretinoin.
Dry, cracked skin may be a side effect of isotretinoin.

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