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Prescribing your own medicines

Self-medication is a form of human behavior in which individuals use unprescribed drugs to treat untreated and often undiagnosed medical ailments. It is a common habit, which almost all of us are guilty of. But it is a habit that can have grievous untoward effects to our health and is best avoided if at all possible.

Most people who self-prescribe are ordinary folk without any background training in medicine. One doesn’t need any medical degrees to be aware that painkillers can help with headaches or other painful conditions. But many painkillers have other less commonly known effects, and easing pains may sometimes mask more serious ailments. The problem of misdiagnosis rears its head every time one self-medicates. You can never be too sure you are treating the right thing, with the correct medication. A false sense of well-being after a misdiagnosis may lead you from an easily treatable state to an untimely fatality.

Drug dependence comes in as well. We have all heard about celebrities with insatiable appetites for prescription drugs that have pleasurable effects akin to illicit recreational drugs. And they find various ways of bypassing legal requirements for controlled prescriptions. It is very easy to get inadvertently addicted to some painkillers and anti-depressants, sometimes leading to ill-timed deaths as happened to a well-known king of pop music.

It doesn’t get better. Misuse of medications used for various infections can lead to a phenomenon known as drug resistance. This means that bacteria and other organisms can no longer respond to commonly used anti-infective agents. This consequently necessitates use of more potent, and more expensive antibiotics to treat mild infections. On a public health scale, this translates into higher healthcare costs and potentially avoidable complications and deaths.

Anybody who self-medicates inadvertently contributes to delays in seeking help. This may not matter for simple ailments. But treating symptoms and hoping that serious illnesses will somehow disappear is the height of fallacy. If you must self-prescribe, please remember the popular ad that goes, ‘if symptoms persist, see your doctor’.

Self-medication is also common with medics, who should know better. They are none the wiser when it comes to potential negative effects, regardless of their specialized medical knowledge. Many countries allow doctors to self-prescribe, but only on a limited basis as such a practice is ethically unsound. It is very difficult to be medically objective about oneself, as some medics have learnt the hard way.Addictions and suicides resulting from self-prescribing are all too common in medical circles.

A final word of caution. Only self-medicate for trivial ailments, or in urgent life-saving situations when access to an emergency facility is not possible. Short of that, don’t do it. Your time and money are better spent in seeking professional advice. That way, you get the correct diagnosis, and the appropriate medication.

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Self-medication is a form of human behavior in which individuals use unprescribed drugs to treat untreated and often undiagnosed medical ailments. It is a common habit, which almost all of us are guilty of. But it is a habit that can have grievous untoward effects to our health and is best avoided if at all possible.

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