In many cases, when people develop fever, colds, cough and headache, they usually rush to the pharmacy to buy painkillers or antibiotics without consulting a doctor. That habit, however, can have dire consequences if unchecked.
Health experts advise
“A minor health issue which could be resolved easily with the doctor’s advice may become a major problem over time. Symptoms may diminish temporarily with self-medication, but it would become difficult for a doctor to correctly diagnose and treat later,” said Dr David Masembe, an internal medicine specialist.
He says one could become addicted to prescription drugs such as antacids, cough syrups and pain relievers.
Some antibiotics such as penicillin or sulpha drugs can cause severe reactions in the body for some people.
These could be fatal.
According to Jado Maniraguha, a physician with MedPlus Clinic, incorrect dosage will prolong recovery and may lead to drug resistance. On the other hand, over-dose may damage the liver, kidneys and other organs.
“Indiscriminate use of antibiotics could over a long time lead to antimicrobial resistance. Consequently, the antibiotic may become ineffective when taken in the future,” Maniraguha says. “The most commonly misused medicines are painkillers. Painkillers can induce gastritis and can also increase risk of stroke by four times in patients with high blood pressure.”
Maniraguha adds: “This could unfavourably affect the unborn child, causing congenital anomalies and birth defects. Unlike other facets of self-care, self-medication involves the intake of drugs, which have the potential to be beneficial or harmful.”
Maniraguha adds that improper use of drugs can have serious health implications, especially for children, the aged, and in people with special physiological conditions such as pregnancy and lactation.
Self-medication, even for minor illnesses, according to Lalitha Suppiah, a medical expert in India, could lead to medical impediments. Suppiah says many powerful drugs such as pain relievers, cough remedies, anti-allergies, purges, antibiotics, antacids and vitamins are sold over-the-counter (OTC).
“Self-medication with OTC medicines could cause allergy, habituation, and addiction. For example, excessive use of vitamins can cause hypervitaminosis, or vitamin poisoning,” Suppiah said.
She adds that taking pills without a doctor’s prescription, even if the illness is inconsequential, could have serious consequences on one’s health.
Annabel Akimana, a public health specialist working with Dama Clinic in Remera, says most people who engage in self medication are those who attempt to cure a slight headache, or any slight pain in their bodies.” He adds that most of them end up either overdosing or under dosing themselves.
Janvier Gatare, who was once a victim of drug overdose in Gikondo (a suburb in Kigali), says he had wanted to calm a persistent headache in 2007 when he took an over dose of pain killers bought from a nearby clinic. He swallowed ten tablets of diclofenac plus some chloroquine without having done a malaria check.
Annabel Akimana, a public health specialist working with Dama Clinic in Remera, recalls a mother from the neighbourhood who usually bought pain killers for her child . “One day, the child collapsed and was rushed to a nearby hospital where doctors discovered that the child had taken expired medicine,” she said.
She insists that when one is sick he or she should go and be examined by a qualified doctor to ascertain the problem first. Self medication exposes one to risks that sometimes may be fatal, she noted.
Why people do it
Akimana mentioned that people go for self medication because they cannot afford to buy full doses of drugs and some, he notes, are ignorant of the consequences of their actions. Others, he says, are just lazy to go to nearby clinics or hospitals for tests and subsequent medication. The fearful ones shun needles and so fore go any preliminary tests he said. She mentioned that persons should be mindful of expiry dates of the drugs they take.