What is self-medication?
Self-medication is when you take drugs, herbal medicines or home remedies on your own, or as a result of someone’s advice without consulting a doctor.
Using self-medication to treat minor illnesses and wounds can help save healthcare costs. The main problems with self-treatment usually occur when people try and treat serious conditions and diseases on their own. It is important that you see a doctor to accurately diagnose and treat you when you experience signs and symptoms of being ill.
Examples of how self-medication have caused problems.
1) A patient who had asthma was given prednisolone to take for only 5 days when he presented to emergency with acute severe asthma. He got better and was discharged to complete the remaining 2days on prednisolone at home. He then decided that since it worked so well for him, he would continue to take it daily to avoid the attacks altogether. He stopped his inhalers and stuck to prednisolone, also stopped clinic follow up for about a year. The next time he was seen, he had developed Cushing’s syndrome!
2) A woman that was trying to conceive took unprescribed clomiphene citrate tablets cos her friend mentioned she took it and got pregnant. She was taking it for over 2weeks without monitoring! She ended up in 1CU with ascites, pulmonary oedema, and ovarian cysts!
3) Elderly woman who presented with persistent fever and oropharyngeal candidiasis. From hx we discovered she was on 6 different antibiotics which she was taking daily for over 5 months to ” flush her system” according to her because she was always tired. She had a bag full of drugs!! The antibiotics had killed off all the normal commensal and she was exposed to opportunistic infections due to depressed immunity.
4) A patient with haemorrhagic stroke: her friend who had had a stroke told her she should be taking aspirin, so she went to buy and was taking 300mg daily. 3 weeks later, she came with another haemorrhagic stroke most likely the aspirin contributed to it. Not every stroke patient needs to be on aspirin. She just assumed her doctor forgot to prescribe it for her and didn’t ask questions!
The problem of self-medication is worse is Nigeria because both over the counter (OTC) medication and prescription-only medications can be bought from petty traders and even roadside hawkers. There are also a lot of unregistered patent medicine shops and pharmacies where people by medications which sources are not known.
It is also quite common for patients to be able to buy prescriptions only medication without a doctor’s prescription. The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) needs to regulate the shops, premises and pharmacies that sell medications and also the health professional who sell these medications. Only qualified and registered pharmacist should sell medications. Pharmacist needs to only sell prescription-only medications to patients with a legal and valid prescription from a doctor. They should also oversee the sale of OTCs.
The Nigerian Customs together with NAFDAC should ensure the tight regulation of the importation of medicines into Nigeria such that only registered pharmacies with a pharmacist import and sells medications.
Risks of self-medication
While self-medication can be a form of self-care usually used to manage minor illnesses or injuries, inappropriate use of self-medication for serious diseases and health conditions can be risky.
The risks of self-medication include:
- Incorrectly diagnosing yourself.
- Delays getting medical attention and proper treatment
- Worsen the condition you are trying to treat.
- Possibility of getting adverse reactions.
- Masking the severity of the disease.
- You may be risking drug interaction that could be fatal.
- You may be at risk of drug dependence and abuse
About the author
Nwasom is a pharmacy graduate and a pharmacist currently practising in the United Kingdom. I have great experience communicating with patients and their family as gained through working as a pharmacist in both the hospital and community pharmacy sector. I love writing so it was a natural thing to try and pass medical and health information on through writing.