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Is Self-Medication Bad? – Dangers of Self-Medication You May Not Know

7 mins

Self-Medication is the act of obtaining medicine or pharmaceutical products without the recommendation or guidance of a doctor but through self-diagnosis from self-recognized symptoms. When you use medicine without prior prescription, professional authorization or supervision, you are simply self-medicating.

Self-Medication is becoming an increasing public health concern as its demerits far outweigh its benefits.

drugs
Photo credit: Canva

The big question is, who has never been guilty of self-medication?

It occurs in any of the following cases:

  • When you buy over the counter (OTC) medicine without a doctor’s prescription.
  • When you consume drugs recommended by friends and relatives who are not health professionals.
  • When you get drugs based on your knowledge of previous prescriptions that worked for familiar symptoms.
  • When you buy medicine (usually traditional herbs) peddled by drug hawkers especially the ones advertised and sold in commercial vehicles in Nigeria.
  • When you buy unprescribed drugs to store at home in the hope to take them when certain symptoms arise or keeping leftover drugs for future use.

Advanced countries are more proactive in their fight to curb the menace of self-medication by making strict regulations that control the procurement of drugs by the public. Unfortunately, this is not the case in most developing countries in the African continent. In Nigeria, everyone can agree that self- medication is one of the main forms of self-care and almost always the first line of treatment for most people.

It is okay to argue that some ailments like headache, diarrhoea, body pains, cough, catarrh and cold are trivial and their medications relatively risk-free, hence they do not necessarily require a doctor’s prescription. But what such an argument fails to acknowledge is the fact that no illness is trivial and it is not ideal to consume drugs based on self-presumed or self-diagnosed illnesses because what appears, for instance, as a flu may not always be just a flu. Diagnosis precedes prescription; thus, the diagnostic process should not be skipped.

Most often than not, the reason for self-medication is cost-oriented, which is why this challenge is more prevalent in developing countries where income is low thereby leading a lot of people to seek the seemingly cheaper options even when it might be riskier. The average Nigerian definitely feels getting drugs from any chemist shop is a more economical option than visiting the hospital.

For the middle class whom ‘cost’ may not be a motivating factor for self-medication, convenience is a major reason. Most of them do not have the luxury of time to endure long hospital queues and other time-consuming clinical processes just to see a doctor for an ailment that is not “so serious”. Therefore, the convenience of getting readily available drugs from the drug store contributes to the predominance of self-medication as well.

Photo credit: Canva

The Downsides to Self-Medication that you may not have thought of:

For many people, self-medication begins with consuming unprescribed drugs and ends with getting the desired and seemingly fast relief. Problem solved! But there’s more to this harmful practice and you should not continue to count on being lucky not to experience the other side of self-medication because that will be mere wishful thinking.

Since the enforcement of regulations controlling the open sale of drugs is lenient in many African countries, it is pertinent to apply caution in the practice of self-medication for your own safety especially as the pharmacy attendants who dispense these medicines from the drug store are not always certified pharmacists or health experts themselves.

Some of the disadvantages of self-medication that you may not have put into consideration before now include:

  • Erroneous prescription: Of course, what else happens when you procure drugs without the appropriate diagnosis? When you self-medicate, the chances of getting the wrong prescription for the peculiar ailment is high. A lot of illnesses come with similar symptoms of fatigue, dizziness and headache. It is therefore inimical to consume unprescribed drugs based on one’s familiarity with perceived symptoms and medication. With the prevalence of malaria in Africa, most people think of malaria first when they feel ill and double down on procuring malaria drugs without prescription. This is a totally harmful habit.

  • Incorrect dosage: Most cases of drug overdose are resultant from self-medication. Drug Overdose claims the lives of thousands of people annually and a sure way to mitigate the increase in mortality is to curb self-medication. Drug underdose is equally a problem closely associated with same, as the effects of under-dosing can result in treatment failure and at worst, adverse reactions.

  • Ignorance of drug interaction: When you self medicate, you scarcely take into consideration the way the drugs that you combine interact with one another. A classic example is the case of people who consume Vitamin C when taking Artemisinin-based antimalarial drugs, thereby rendering the antimalarial drug ineffective! In case you do not know, Vitamin C has antioxidant properties and antimalarials work by process of oxidation. Hence, ingesting Vitamin C  while on antimalarial treatment will result to possible inhibition of oxidative action of the antimalarial drug thereby rendering it futile. Now, you see why it is advised that you consult a doctor before taking any drug. With your doctor’s guidance, the ailment is thoroughly examined and you also will not have to worry about the components of the drugs.

  • Increase in Antibiotic Resistance (ABR):  Self-medication is the leading cause of drug resistance in humans. When you continue to take drugs especially antibiotics from your own initiatives, the pathogens in the body begin to grow resistant to those drugs. What this implies is that the effectiveness of the said medication to cure the illness is drastically reduced as the pathogens develop the ability to withstand the drug that once stalls or kills them.

  • Less duration of treatment: Another downside to self-medication is the fact that there is no doctor supervision or review of the drug interactions in the body. Since the medications are taken outside the doctor’s guidance, the duration of treatment is usually less, causing the ailment to either resurface after a little while or causing more complications to the consumer’s health.

  • Masking of serious health conditions: Because self-medication provides fast relief in most cases, it is easy for this practice to mask underlying severe conditions that require the attention of a physician. Without proper doctor consultation, it is most likely to misdiagnose an ailment, thereby treating the wrong ailment for a while and delaying medical intervention until it becomes severe.

Other disadvantages include overdependence on drugs, irrational drug use and drug abuse especially with medicines that are pain relievers, stimulants and antidepressants.

Self-Medication is No Treatment.

Self-Medication is No Cure.

Prompt Doctor Consultation remains the best action before getting that drug.

Photo credit: Canva

Oh wait!

You are probably wondering why you should go through the hassle of visiting the hospital to talk to a doctor and obviously spending considerable time, cost and energy for a manifestly minor health challenge.

Don’t worry.

With the KompleteCare Online Doctor Consultation, you can talk to a real doctor from the comfort of your home via your smart phone in a matter of minutes!

Knowing the potential risks you are exposed to whenever you self-medicate, you are doing your health a lot of good by taking drugs the right way.

At the risk of being ‘penny wise, pound foolish’, always get expert advice before buying any drug.

Health is wealth. Don’t compromise on your well-being.

Medical Disclaimer: KompleteCare™ aims to improve the quality of life for everyone with fact-based content about the nature of diseases, preventive care, behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provide

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Ginika is the Lead content writer at KompleteCare. She also doubles as an editor and proofreader for everything that concerns content. When she's not writing content for KompleteCare, you might find her copy-editing works for authors before publication. Reach Ginika at ginika.okeke@kompletecare.com

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