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Dangers Of Self-Medication: Why It Is Harmful

Dr. Pragnya Rao

Taking medicines without consulting a doctor can have serious effects on your health.

In our country that houses over a billion people with the availability of just one doctor per 1800 of the population, it is a mammoth task for health care providers to prevent people from misusing or self-administering medications. Self-medication is the process by which a drug or home remedy is administered without the consultation or prescription of a doctor by an individual or the individual’s family. 

While minor remedies like drinking hot soups or beverages while having a common cold are helpful, it is important to know that when done right, self-medication is an indicator of increased awareness of one’s health. 

However, sometimes self-medication is more of a result of negative stigma around a disease, hiding or denying a condition, cost of healthcare that may not be afforded by all, fear of side effects of medications that may be prescribed by a doctor and history of inefficient treatment in the past. Sometimes, pharmacists also provide medication without demanding to see a prescription for non-OTC drugs. Such practices come with a lot of harmful risks:

  • Side effects of self-medication: A lot of medicines have their own set of side effects- some can be common, for example, some pain killers can cause gastritis like symptoms while some are rare. It is not possible to foresee or predict what effects might show up. This especially true when it comes to antibiotics. 
  • Misdiagnosis of a health condition: It is important to consult a doctor to properly get your health condition diagnosed. There are over 10 conditions that may cause diarrhoea commonly and not all of them to have the same line of treatment. Usage of antibiotics in diarrhoea is very rampant, especially when mothers administer them to their children. Not only can it lead to worsening of the condition as some antibiotics can cause d, but medicating without knowing dosage can be harmful and lead to unnecessary antibiotic resistance. 
  • Risks of interactions of a drug with another drug or other substances: There can be harmful interactions between different drugs if taken simultaneously. For example, a person on blood thinner medication for heart ailments should not take NSAIDs as it can cause bleeding and irreparable damage in the mucosa of the stomach. Additionally taking alcohol while on aspirin can cause similar issues and lead to serious side effects like vomiting blood. Drug to drug interactions is abundantly seen with medications that are taken for mental health conditions such as antipsychotic drugs or drugs taken for epilepsy.
  • Risk of abuse of medication: Addiction and dependency on medication that is not prescribed by a doctor or when prescribed, if there has been no follow up or renewal can cause adverse effects. Commonly observed is the abuse of steroid medication for weight gain by young women who do not have complete information on what they are taking, which can progress to emergency situations and complications like an adrenal crisis- which may need admission to an intensive care unit. Antipsychotic medications are often abused and can sometimes lead to overdose. Antidepressants, when taken in overdose, can cause multiple complications such as unconsciousness, seizures, coma and even death.
  • Increased risk in pregnant and breastfeeding women: Not all medications are safe in pregnant and breastfeeding women. Self-medication can be harmful to the foetus in the former and can pass on via breast milk to a newborn in case of the latter. Hence it is important to make sure a gynaecologist is consulted before administration of any medicines.

It is important to trust the doctor and provide an adequate history of your illness as well as the existence of any other conditions for which you might be taking medication. Medications are always prescribed by any doctor keeping health status of the individual in mind and having known recommended dosage according to body weight, course or duration required, mode of breakdown and excretion of the drug from the body, possible side effects and interactions with other drugs as well as risks associated in pregnancy, lactating women. Hence it is important that you place your trust in a healthcare professional.

As the coronavirus pandemic is going on, it is important that you protect yourself and your family from misinformation and panic, as well as to avoid any self-medication for the disease. 

You can always ask your doctor for information on these to ensure the safety of the drug given to you. During the lockdown, you can, however, continue to be on a healthy diet with foods that can improve your immunity as well as be involved in physical exercises while at home.

If you are experiencing symptoms like cough, fever, sore throat or breathing difficulties, it is advised that you consult a doctor as soon as possible. Get your symptoms assessed by top doctors on your phone on the MFine app.

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