COVID-19

Patients self-medicating over fear of contracting virus in hospital - doctor

In Summary

• Over the counter medication such as painkillers, antacids, vitamins and cough remedies can be bought in pharmacies without a prescription and are some of the most commonly abused.

• Doctor encouraged patients to visit hospitals when they are feeling unwell for proper diagnosis and medication. 

Medicine in a Pharmacy. Photo/ Jack Owuor
Medicine in a Pharmacy. Photo/ Jack Owuor

Patients are opting to self medicate and missing on treatments such as dialysis sessions and cancer treatments due to the fear of contracting Covid-19 at hospitals. 

Over the counter medication such as painkillers, antacids, vitamins and cough remedies can be bought in pharmacies without a prescription and are some of the most commonly abused. 

According to Dr Jacob Shaban, other reasons for self medicating include the stigma associated with the virus, curfews, partial lockdowns and the requirements for physical distancing. 

"There have been fewer emergency department hospital visits for life-threatening conditions such as asthmatic attacks and heart attacks, with resultant bad outcomes at home," he said. 

The Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the Aga Khan University Hospital added patients with chronic diseases have used inappropriate pain-relieving medications that worsen their conditions. 

"While self-medication could have few advantages, especially when dealing with well-informed patients in the management of their chronic conditions and minor ailments, it is far from being a completely safe practice," said Shaban. 

"For instance, the use of common painkillers and anti-inflammatories such as diclofenac in people with hypertension can tip them into renal failure."

Prescription medicines, on the other hand, are drugs that require a prescription before you can acquire them as they are considered to be potentially harmful if not used under the supervision of a licensed health care provider. 

"Unfortunately, with the Covid-19 pandemic, prescription-only drugs are now increasingly being self-prescribed," Shaban said. 

Examples of prescription-only medicines include antimicrobials, anti-hypertensives, anti-diabetics, antidepressants, and narcotics analgesics. 

"Delays in seeking medical advice when needed, masking a severe disease, incorrect self-diagnosis, incorrect choice of therapy, incorrect manner of administration, and incorrect dosage are some of the dangers of self-medicating," he said. 

Others include rare but severe adverse reactions that can lead to permanent disability or even death, dangerous drug interactions, polypharmacy and the risk of dependence and abuse.

Shaban encouraged patients to visit hospitals when they are feeling unwell for proper diagnosis and medication. 

"Have a discussion with your health care provider you can seek care safely. Hospitals have instituted measures to avoid transmission of Covid-19, with the required physical distancing measures, appropriate use of protective equipment such as face masks," he said. 

Patients are also advised to make use of the teleconsultation option offered by hospitals, not share or use another person's prescription, and avoid using over the counter especially for those with chronic cardiovascular disease.

"Always store your medications securely to prevent others from using them and properly dispose of that are no longer in use.

Be a good example to those around you by modeling safe-medication taking practices and discussing the dangers of misusing prescription drugs with your family, friends, colleagues, students, or patients," Shaban said.