HEAL THYSELF

Self-medication bad for your health

In Summary
  • Many studies have revealed that young adults are more vulnerable to the practice of self-medication
  • Self-medication causes wastage of resources, increases pathogen resistance and generally causes serious health hazards
Medicine in a Pharmacy. Photo/ Jack Owuor
Medicine in a Pharmacy. Photo/ Jack Owuor

Self-medication has become a serious public health problem globally. A recently published Google trends study on self-medication during the Covid-19 pandemic indicated an upward trend.

The study showed an increase in the number of searches for self-medication worldwide since the pandemic was declared. With the widespread availability of the internet, self-diagnosis has taken on pandemic proportions.

Many studies have revealed that young adults are more vulnerable to the practice of self-medication due to their low perception of risks associated with the use of drugs, knowledge of drugs, easy access to the internet, wider media coverage on health-related issues, ready access to drugs, level of education, and social status.

Today more than 7,000 drugs and drug combinations are available in the world and many of these have been released for general use and are sold directly as over-the-counter drugs. 

The World Health Organization defined self-medication as “use of pharmaceutical or medicinal products by the consumer to treat self-recognised disorders or symptoms, the intermittent or continued use of a medication previously prescribed by a physician for chronic or recurring disease or symptom, or the use of medication recommended by lay sources or health workers not entitled to prescribe medicine.”

It involves obtaining medication without prescription and taking medicines on advice of and from friends and relatives. Self-medication is common in both developed and developing countries but higher in developing countries, due to wider increase of drug availability without prescription. 

For most of us, falling ill means a quick visit to the doctor but for some people, going to the clinic is the last resort. If a member of the family develops a fever, cold, cough and headache, we are quick to rush to the pharmacy to buy painkillers or antibiotics without consulting a doctor.

WHO has emphasised that self-medication must be correctly taught and controlled to avoid drug-related issues such as antimicrobial resistance, which is now a current problem worldwide particularly in developing countries where antibiotics are often available without a prescription.

Methods of self-medication may include buying drugs by reutilising a previous prescription, taking medicines on the advice of relatives or others, or consuming leftover medicines at home.

Consumption of drugs without a prescription is triggered by factors such as the availability of drugs, easy access to drugs without time limits, improved supply of different varieties of medicines at affordable prices, and convenience in access to drugs compared to seeking treatment in healthcare facilities.

Many studies have shown that self-medication causes wastage of resources, increases pathogen resistance and generally causes serious health hazards such as adverse drug reactions, prolonged suffering and drug dependence.

Potential risks may include incorrect self-diagnosis, delays in seeking medical advice when needed, severe adverse reactions, dangerous drug interactions, especially for older people with multi-morbidity, incorrect manner of administration, incorrect dosage, incorrect choice of therapy, masking of severe disease, and development of microbial resistance.

WHO has emphasised that self-medication must be correctly taught and controlled to avoid drug-related issues such as antimicrobial resistance, which is now a current problem worldwide particularly in developing countries where antibiotics are often available without a prescription.

While you can try the age-old home remedies to get relief in case of minor issues, you should not take medicines on your own. According to the national drug regulator, Pharmacy and Poisons Board, healthcare professionals have been trained to accurately diagnose an ailment and administer the appropriate medication to treat a particular condition.

If you or your loved one is experiencing a certain illness, it is advisable that you visit your healthcare professional. Self-medication can ruin your health. Going to a doctor is your safest bet.

Communications officer, Pharmacy and Poisons Board