Self-medication: Are you killing yourself, your family?

At the community level, it may lead to an increased incidence in drug-induced diseases

In Summary

•Some of the dangers of self-medication include incorrect self-diagnosis; masking of an underlying severe health condition and consequent failure to seek medical advice promptly

•In many instances, antibiotics are overused and misused by individuals often without seeking professional advice from health care providers. 

Self-medication is linked to several risks for the self-medicated patient.
Self-medication is linked to several risks for the self-medicated patient.
Image: COURTESY

Most of us at one time or another have popped into a pharmacy to pick up some over-the-counter (OTC) medication.

And of course, those medicines are designed to be safe for consumers to administer themselves – provided they stick to the recommended indications and dosage guidelines. Self-medication involves the use of medicinal products by the patient to treat self-recognised disorders or symptoms.

Self-medication products are those not requiring a medical prescription and which are produced, distributed and sold to consumers for use on their own initiative. Responsible self-medication can be used to prevent and treat symptoms and ailments that do not need medical consultation or oversight.

HIGH COSTS

This reduces pressure on medical services, especially in resource-constrained settings. Although many countries categorise medicines as either OTC or prescription-only, research data indicates that sale of self-prescription products (i.e. buying prescription-only drugs without a prescription) is far more common than sale of OTC drugs.

This may be due to the high cost of accessing treatment, long distance to the nearest health facility, poor health-seeking behaviours among other factors.

However, self-medication is linked to several risks for the self-medicated patient and, in some cases, for the community. Many of these risks are not limited to self-medication and may also occur in the prescription situation (although they are often less likely if correct medical protocols are observed by the physician).

Some of the dangers of self-medication include incorrect self-diagnosis; masking of an underlying severe health condition and consequent failure to seek medical advice promptly; rare but severe adverse effects; failure to recognize contraindications and potential drug-drug and drug-food interactions; incorrect route or manner of administration; inadequate dosage; risk of dependence or abuse; storage in incorrect conditions and; incorrect choice of therapy.

At the community level, improper self-medication may lead to an increased incidence in drug-induced diseases and hospitalization with the consequent increase in public health expenditure. In some cases, the consumer may be unaware that several products with different brand names and for different indications may contain the same active ingredient hence risk of an overdose or toxicity.

Dr Kelvin Murigoh, a pharmacist.
Dr Kelvin Murigoh, a pharmacist.

One of the biggest problems associated with self-medication is anti-microbial resistance, which is now considered a major threat to global public health as declared by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2016.

 

Antimicrobial resistance occurs naturally over time, usually through genetic changes of microorganisms. However, the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials have been noted to accelerate this process. In many instances, antibiotics are overused and misused by individuals often without seeking professional advice from health care providers. An example of misuse includes people with viral infections like colds and flu taking antibiotics.

REDUCING THE RISKS 

Across many parts of the world there is widespread use of OTC pain killers. Since the early 1980s, several studies have reported associations between chronic renal failure and continued use of painkillers known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) e.g. Aspirin. To minimize the dangers associated with self-medication:

  • Always seek medical attention from registered healthcare professionals whenever you fall ill
  • Buy medicines from the Pharmacy and Poisons Board licensed pharmacies and consult the pharmacist on any medicine related queries you may have.
  • Use all medicines as directed by a health professional.
  • Never share your prescription medications with others or use someone else’s prescription medications.
  • Always store your medications securely to prevent others from using them and properly dispose off those that are no longer in use.

Dr Murigoh is a pharmacist in Embu County, currently pursuing a Postgraduate Degree in Pharmacy at the University of Nairobi.  Email: [email protected]