This is the selection and use of medicines (modern and/or traditional) by individuals to treat self-recognized illnesses or symptoms. It can also be described as the consumption of medication without getting advice from the physician for either diagnosis or treatment.
Self-medication can however be done in a responsible manner when it involves the use of quality drugs that are safe and efficient. Drugs used for self-medication should contain information on its appropriate use, duration of use, possible side effects, possible interactions, warnings and when to seek professional advice.
Increased educational levels, increased access to information, readily available and affordable over-the-counter medicines have greatly contributed to the global increase in self-medication. Epidemiological factors, changing disease patterns and the prevalence of certain diseases in a geographical region makes individuals assume greater responsibility for their health and wellbeing. This subsequently increases participation in self-medication. Economic factors like cost of Doctor’s consultation has also increased participation in self-medication. Inadequacies in health care delivery, lack of adequate health care professionals, long waiting time in the clinic and wrong patients’ attitude towards healthcare providers are major factors driving the increase self-medication.
Self-medication is wide spread and has a few benefits. Responsible Self-medication is convenient and cost friendly and has been found to reduce absenteeism from work. It also lowers the cost of government and community funded health care programs and reduces the pressure on medical practitioners especially in areas where they are insufficient.
Despite the advantages of self-medication, it also has several potential risks. Self-medication could cause dependence and abuse of medicines. The overuse of antibiotics for self-medication has contributed greatly to the global burden of antimicrobial resistance. Inadequate dosing, adverse drug reactions, wrong diagnosis and therapeutic failure are potential risks that come with self-medication.
In self-medication, the pharmacist is professionally obligated to:
- Provide sound, objective, evidence-based, unbiased advice on self-medication and medicines available for self-medication.
- Obtain patients' information to best assess the condition. Information on patients' past medical history, previous drugs used, and lifestyle is important.
- Verify if self-care product can be safely used (e.g. In case of pregnancy).
- Educate patients on potential adverse effects of the drug being used. And also report adverse events to appropriate regulatory bodies.
- Inform the patient on appropriate storage condition of drugs.
- Advise the public on the benefits of consulting pharmacists when looking to self-medicate.
What other ways can Pharmacists contribute to self-medication?
Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will cause an increase in self medication?
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International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) 2019. Joint FIP/GSCF Statement of Policy on Responsible and Effective Self-care. The Hague, The Netherlands.
Ibrahim, M, Wertheimer, A, and Babar, Z (ed.) 2018. Social and Administrative Aspects of Pharmacy in Low- And Middle-Income Countries Present Challenges and Future Solutions. Elsevier Academic press, United States of America, pp.15-33. Available at https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-811228-1.00002-9 (Accessed 22nd February, 2020).