World Health Organization has defined self-medication as “use of pharmaceutical or medicinal products by the consumer to treat self-recognized 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.”
Self-medication is associated with risks such as misdiagnosis, use of excessive drug dosage, prolonged duration of use, wastage of resources, and increased resistance to pathogens.
Self-medication is one of the major health concerns worldwide. This is due to the easy availability of a wide range of prescription drugs and medicines over-the-counter. Its prevalent almost all over India & is being practised from generation to generation. This is mostly done for minor symptoms to save time & money.
Studies have reported wide variations in its prevalence in India increasing from 31% in 1997 to 71% in 2011. The nature and extent of self-medication vary according to cultural, social, and educational influences eg as per a study carried out by Department of Community Medicine, Vardhman Mahavir Medical College and Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi ( Published 2015) in a South Delhi colony the prevalence of self-medication was 92.8% (95 confidence interval: 66.5-79.4). 74.9% preferred allopathic medicines.
Self-medication was found to be practised more among younger persons than older age group persons (P = 0.000). Graduates and postgraduates practised self-medication more than others (P = 0.002). Common cold (61.6%) and fever (51.8%) were the most common ailments for which self-medication was practised. Paracetamol and cough syrups were the most commonly used class of drugs
Various medicines used for self-medication
- Cough Syrups & cold medicines
Some over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription cough and cold medicines contain active ingredients that are psychoactive (mind-altering) at higher-than-recommended dosages and are frequently abused for this purpose. When taken in prescribed dose symptoms of lower and upper respiratory congestion and discomfort caused by colds and flu are treated. But when taken in higher quantities or when such symptoms aren’t present, they may affect the brain in ways very similar to illegal drugs. Many of these medicines contain Dextromethorphan, Codeine, Promethazine & Antihiataminics & can be addictive.
Laxatives are used to relieve constipation caused by a variety of issues. Misuse of laxatives come into play when they are used to promote unhealthy weight loss. People with eating disorders commonly use laxatives as a way to rid themselves of unwanted weight. This causes major problems in the digestive tract because once the body is used to relying on laxatives, it stops producing the natural enzymes used in the digestion process.
Antacids work to reduce the level of acids in the stomach. They’re used to eliminate the discomfort of heartburn and bloating caused by gas. Instead of allowing their body to function on its own, many people take antacids constantly. Overuse of antacids can cause the body to stop producing the enzymes needed to digest food naturally. It can also harm the stomach lining and other parts of the digestive tract.
- Diet Pills
Diet pills are often misused by dieters to curb their appetite and give them an extra burst of energy. Side effects of the diet pills include pulmonary hypertension, a rare and potentially fatal disorder due to high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs, valvular disease of the heart, elevated blood pressure, increased pulse and heart rate, restlessness, dizziness, insomnia, dry mouth, and constipation.
- Sleeping Pills
OTC medications that are marketed to assist people in falling asleep are supposed to be used occasionally. Many people use them daily and tend to build up a resistance to them leading to addiction & increased dose over time. If they do not take them then they can get with drawl symptoms which at times can be serious
Acetaminophen is a pain reliever/fever reducer. Taking doses that are too close together or more than the recommended amount can be harmful. Acetaminophen can erode the stomach lining and cause severe and irreversible liver damage.
Antihistamines are used to relieve itching from allergies and insect bites. They also cause drowsiness. Some users take the medication to help with falling asleep.
8.Pain killers like Ibuprofen, Aspirin, Nimuselide & Dicofenac sodium
These drugs can harm the stomach & can cause kidney damage
As per various studies, the most common antibiotic used for self-medication were amoxicillin, followed by macrolides ( like Azithromycin), fluoroquinolones ( Ofloxacin & Ciprofloxacin) cephalosporins, and metronidazole. The self-medication leads to antibiotic resistance which is already on the rise.
What is the solution?
Organization of educational workshops and forums which impart knowledge to the general public about the dangers of self-medication.
Regulation of pharmacies is also a critical complementary need to bring down the practice of self-medication.