Self Medication: A Harmful Practice

Posted on 04th Apr 2012 | 1057 views

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"Most over-the-counter and almost all prescribed drug treatments merely mask symptoms or control health problems or in some way alter the way organs or systems such as the circulatory system work. Drugs almost never deal with the reasons why these problems exist, while they frequently create new health problems as side effects of their activities"-John R. Lee, M.D.
I. What is self medication?

Self medication is the use of non prescribed medicines by people on their own initiative. Self medication is mostly practiced for the disorders like headaches, colds, fevers, digestive problems, diarrhea, acidity and constipation. We know Brufen for headache, Benadryl for sore throat, Crocin for fever as a common practice of medication. But it is not sure that taking all these medicines doesn't create any effect on a person's health. Medicines for self-medication are often called 'non-prescription' or 'over the counter' (OTC) and are available without a doctor's prescription through pharmacies. Pharmacists play an important role in providing assistance, advice and information on self medication. In some countries OTC products are also available in supermarkets and other outlets. Medicines that require a doctor's prescription are called prescription products. A recent survey on self medication indicates that people in all parts of the world encounter the same common health problems with same frequency. Common colds, headaches, digestive problems and body aches and pains do not change by nationality, culture or climate.


Most of the times we ignore side effects of the painkillers. When we take a painkiller for fever and if it adds to cold also, our body will be overdosed with active ingredients, which can cause severe health problems like acidity and stomach cramps. Even some medications like aspirin cause acidity if we are allergic to it.


Most of us follow old prescription, when the same symptoms occur next time or borrow medicines from friends and family members when they have fever, sore throat or other symptoms. If we adopt self medication when the symptoms repeat frequently it is harmful to health. When we use same drugs continuously, our body develops immunity and demands higher doses next time. Generally we prefer a common cough syrup for any kind of cough, without knowing the actual cause of it, like wheezing or difficulty in breathing. Even it is suggested that self medication is not applicable for hypertension symptoms. If a diabetic takes general cough syrup without doctor's prescription that may increase sugar levels.

II. Self medication for children?


Self medication for children is not at all suggestible. Parents should strictly consult a doctor for minor health issues like cold, fever and cough. Cold is a condition which is not cured by the medications. But medications only help to reduce the symptoms. Cold can be prevented with Vitamin C and Vitamin A supplements and Zinc also improves immunity against cold. Cold can be cured by taking plenty of water and warm fluids. Avoiding dairy products and banana during the cold may reduce the cold symptoms. Paracetamol is a common medicine used to control the temperature. But it is not suggested always; consult doctor to know any other causes. If the fever contains any other symptoms like shivering, headache, muscle ache and flu it may lead to malaria. You can also control fever by applying cold compress or dipping a cloth in ice water and applying it to the forehead. If the temperature is not controlled in 2 to 3 days better consult a doctor for immediate results. The most common problem in children is loss of appetite or over eating. Illness is the main reason for these symptoms

III. Self medication and its effects:
  • Most of the people prefer taking alcohol for psychological disorders. Because alcohol shut down higher order brain functions which causes lack of thinking power. It is a poor substitutive for some sort of mental disorders as consuming alcohol creates adverse effects on a person's health
  • Alcohol also kills brain cells and causes brain damage which leads to depression, liver damage, dehydration, obesity and reduced ability to cope in general
  • Recreational drugs used in self medication to treat depression will cause euphoria. When a person gets depressed he will be addicted to the same medicine to regain the same mood levels
  • Taking pain killers for backache and headache are acceptable only in limited doses. Overdose of paracetomol leads to death and ibuprofen causes damage to stomach lining and lever if over doses persist
  • If you take overdose of sleeping pills, they may cause breathing problems. Sometimes it may lead to death also. Taking sleeping pills is not advisable unless prescribed
  • Never skip your medications, if you are a diabetic or high blood pressure patients
  • Taking self medication for ulcer for weeks and months without doctor's prescription may lead to peptic ulcers
  • Another common practice is discontinuing the medication when they feel better. For example antibiotic medicine should be used as per the prescribed duration. If the course is not completed in time, the antibiotic will not act on you when you take next time
  • Aspirin should be in low dosages. High dosages may lead to peptic ulcers and bleeding
IV. Tips for effective self medication:


  • Read the instructions carefully on the label of the medicine
  • Make sure that the medicine is not expired
  • Always store medicines in cool and dark place
  • Take doctors' advice before using medicines for pregnant women, old people and children.
  • Take pharmacist's advice before purchasing a medicine
  • Never use the medicine for longer periods once the seal is opened

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