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The Hazards of Self-Medication

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Self-medication refers to the act of taking medication without a proper prescription by qualified medical personnel.

Some of the drugs that people tend to self-medicate are:

1. Analgesics or Pain relievers–e.g., Ibuprofen, Paracetamol, Diclofenac
2. Opioids – e.g., Tramadol
3. Antibiotics – e.g., Azithromycin, Ciprofloxacin, Amoxicillin
4. Stimulants – e.g., Pills for weight loss
5. Anti-Allergies –e.g., Cetirizine, Levocetirizine
6. Laxatives – e.g., Bisacodyl, Ispaghula powder
7. Antacids – e.g., Milk of Magnesia
8. Multi vitamins and minerals preparations

Many times, we tend to do self-medication considering it to be an easy way to avoid cost and save time, but the dangers are many. Following are some of the potentially dangerous situations we may encounter because of self-medication:

1. Self-medication can worsen the present disease condition

If the diagnosis is not correct, then the self-medication can cause more harm as it delays the correct treatment regimen.

2. Drug Interactions

Ignorance about drug interactions with other drugs you may be taking or with various food or drinks including alcohol can cause harm.

3. Possibility of misdiagnosis of Illness

Taking self-medication for fever, presuming it to be viral fever, when in fact it is bacterial or some other illness such as dengue or covid-19 which requires monitoring of other vital parameters, could lead to life-threatening situations.

4. Insufficient Dosage or Overdosage

During self-medication, there is typically lack of awareness about the correct dosage -the strength, the frequency of taking the medication as well as the number of days to be on the medication. Both under-dose and over-dose are harmful.

5. Habit-forming drugs

Taking pain relievers for headache or other pain, or taking antihistamines for cold can easily become habit-forming. This reduces the body’s immunity, pain threshold and natural defenses against infections.

6. Dangerous side effects

One of the most dangerous aspects of self-medication is the lack of awareness of the side effects as well as the contraindications of the drug that may lead, for example, to miscarriages in pregnant women, life-threatening complications in patients with high blood pressure or diabetes, hepatotoxicity, etc.

Some of the side effects by different medications

1. Painkillers/ Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Taking painkillers especially ingesting a double dose for quicker relief can cause acidity, ulcers, stomach bleeding, nausea, dizziness, headaches, high blood pressure and kidney damage.

2. Cough syrups: Many cough syrups are alcohol-based and cause drowsiness, irregular heart rhythm, dry mouth, nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, restlessness and reduced concentration.

3. Antibiotics: Taking unprescribed antibiotics to treat a cold, cough or other upper respiratory tract infection leads to bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Some of the side effects include allergic reactions, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, hair fall, vaginal infection, and drug resistance.

Self-medication is not a safe practice. With the availability of information on the internet, the practice of self-diagnosis and self-medication is becoming increasingly common, but the risks are high. It is prudent to always consult a qualified physician before taking any medicines.