34-year-old Chandan (name changed) had been feeling nauseous and uneasy for the past one month. He thought its just fever and nonchalantly popped a couple of pills including pain killers to get rid of the body ache. He bought those pills over-the-counter and without consulting a doctor. As he was too busy to see a doctor, his condition aggravated as taking the wrong medicine led to an allergic reaction. His doctor tells us that if Chandan had not consulted him at this point, this self-medication would have turned fatal.
This is not an uncommon story. There are hundreds of such cases which are testimony to an extremely unhealthy trend today. People avoid going to doctors either to save money or due to time constraint. A large number of potent drugs such as pain relievers, cough remedies, anti-allergies, laxatives, antibiotics, antacids and vitamins are sold over-the-counter (OTC). The most common ailments for which we resort to self medication are headaches, colds, fevers, digestive problems - Diarrhoea, constipation or acidity.
Dr Ramachandra, who runs a clinic in Rajajinagar, says, “It is very common for people to take medicines without consulting doctors. In many cases, if we give them prescription and they feel better, they end up taking the same drug next time. Once I remember prescribing sleeping tablets to a patient. And he ended up taking a higher dosage the next time for a completely unrelated ailment and it led to a lot of complications.”
One might feel that an old prescription is alright to follow as the doctor had given it to you for similar symptoms. Or your colleague had the same kind of viral attack with a high fever and sore throat. So why bother to see your physician ? This can be a very dangerous practice as what suited your colleague’s constitution may not suit yours and the combination of drugs could affect you adversely.
Dr Ravish, Senior Consultant Urologist at a private hospital said, “A lot of patients take medicine on their own, assuming it is ‘just’ a urinary tract infection. This trend of self-medication is very common in urology. What people don’t realise is there can be drug reaction and if the diagnosis is not proper, infection can spread to the Kidney as well and cause renal damage.”
A large number of potent drugs such as pain relievers, cough remedies, anti-allergies, laxatives,antibiotics,antacids and vitamins are sold over-the-counter.
According to medical expert Lalitha Suppiah, self-medication, even for minor ailments, could lead to medical complications. Self-medication with OTC medicines could cause allergy, habituation, and addiction. For example, excessive use of vitamins can cause hypervitaminosis, or vitamin poisoning. Antimicrobial resistance is a major problem, particularly in India where antibiotics are often available without a prescription.
Many doctors feel that we don’t have a proper regulation in place in our country and hence the ones selling drugs in medical shops have no fear of being penalised or punished.
Dr Vikram SB, physician, tells us that the system is very lax in India when it comes to even prescription drugs. “Pain killers are the most commonly used medication. Using them without consulting a doctor can cause ulcers in the stomach, kidney damage, increase in blood pressure, which patients don’t understand. Some people take these drugs as their staple diet and they forget to tell the doctors about the same. Even taking cough syrups without prescription can lead to constipation, dryness of mouth and palpitation. Antibiotic abuse is another common thing among the non doctors. Irrational usage can be fatal and can have irreparable side-effects. Self-medication does more harm than good, whether it is Homeopathy or Ayurvedic,” he signs off.