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Use over-the-counter and prescription meds appropriately

There are two distinct ways of getting hold of medical drugs. One is what is commonly referred to as over-the –counter medications, or OTC for short. Over-the-counter basically means you make your way to a pharmacy or drug store, and just order the meds that you require. Most meds available OTC don’t usually require a doctor’s prescription. Such meds are made easily accessible for simple self-treatments that include aches and pains, minor accidents, etc. When you ask for an OTC med, you should always have some idea of what it is that you are trying to treat. And also know when to draw the line and get a formal doctor’s review.

And then there are prescription-only meds, or POM for short. As POM implies, you can only get such meds if you have a formal prescription from a doctor. That means you have already gone through a formal medical evaluation, ending up with a specific diagnosis and an accompanying prescription. All POMs are highly regulated for various reasons. They include antibiotics, potent painkillers, and a host of all manner of meds that are used to treat complex diseases. Pharmaceutical regulation disallows the dispensing of POMs in a casual manner. If you ever ask for a POM without a formal doctor’s order, pharmaceutical retailers should usually deny your request. Most will ask you to see a doctor first.

It should be self-evident to anyone that there are limitations on the use of OTC meds. Some may want to cut corners and self-prescribe, even when such a strategy appears stupid. The situation is compounded by unscrupulous drug retailers who are often willing to sell anything, mostly in the interests of profits. If OTC meds don’t seem to cure what you thought was a simple ailment, don’t worsen the situation by trying to escalate to more potent self-prescribed meds. You should also resist the temptation to ask drug retailers to recommend instant cures, most of them have no medical diagnostic skills. Get a formal doctor’s evaluation quick, and an appropriate POM if that’s required.

If you end up with a POM, you must adhere to certain rules if you want a cure. Make sure you get exactly what was prescribed. Substituting POMs without checking with your doctor is a grave mistake, sometimes ending up catastrophic. Adhere to the recommended dosage and duration. Upping up the dose, skipping doses, or stopping prematurely can be lethal. Don’t assume you’ll need the same POM in the future if similar symptoms recur, mistakenly using that as an excuse for self-prescription. And never collude with your pharmacist to refill POM prescriptions without appropriate medical reviews.

Use OTC drugs for mundane reasons. Don’t ever be tempted to take short-cuts with POMs. You’d be risking too much, it’s not worth your health.

Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynecologist and Fertility Specialist. amurage@mygyno.co.ke

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