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The Danger of Self-Medicating

written by Guest Blogger March 12, 2013

Do you treat yourself for illnesses rather than seeking the advice from a health professional? Tasha Matsumoto has a few ideas to share with you if you want to be your own doctor. 

When you hear the term “self-medicating,” what comes to mind? For many people, thoughts of drugs and alcohol come to mind. While it’s true that people do try to drown their sorrows and ease their pain with intoxicants, self-medicating means so much more.

When you have a headache, what do you do? Chances are that you reach into your medicine cabinet for a bottle of aspirin or ibuprofen. When you twist your ankle, do you drive to the emergency room or do you get out the heating pad? It’s not uncommon for people to treat their illnesses and injuries at home. Unfortunately, this can be a dangerous choice.

Doctor1. Expired Medication

Medication has a shelf-life, and it loses its effectiveness after a certain period of time. If you, for instance, are suffering with yet another urinary tract infection, the antibiotics that you have left over from last year most likely will not cure your illness. When you take expired medication, the medication itself may not make you ill, but you run the risk of allowing your illness to fester, and possibly become worse.

2. Symptoms

One of the dangers of self-medicating is that there are many diseases that have the same symptoms. For instance, what you think is persistent acid indigestion could be the beginning of a heart attack. What you think is a nagging cough could be pneumonia. By taking medication without knowing what you have, you may be alleviating symptoms but doing nothing for the underlying issue.

3. Contraindications

Did you know that if you take supplements, there are medications that may be contraindicated? Did you know that certain medications can’t be taken with each other, that some cause drowsiness, or that certain ones can’t be taken if you have a specific medical condition? While it’s typically safe to take an aspirin, it is dangerous to go through your medicine cabinet and take prescription medication in an attempt to self-medicate.

4. Making Your Illness Worse

When you sprain your knee, do you use heat or ice? If you don’t know, you shouldn’t be medicating yourself. When your nose is running, do you need a decongestant or an antihistamine? Don’t know the answer? Don’t take anything until you speak to your physician or pharmacist. When you treat yourself in the wrong way, you can actually turn a minor problem into a major one.

5. Mislabelling

If you’re going to take the medication that your friend or co-worker is handing you, stop and think again. No matter how much you trust your friend, you have no idea what he or she will be handing you. You also have no idea if your body can handle that medication. Keep in mind, as well, that because one medication works for the person you know, it may not be the medication that works for you.

Unless you are certain that you are dealing with a common issue like a headache or cold, don’t try to self-medicate. If you don’t have health insurance or can’t afford a visit to your physician, at least stop by the drug store and speak with a pharmacist. Making sure that you’re taking the right medication really can be a matter of life and death.

About the Author

Tasha Matsumoto is an avid health blogger. If you’re excited about the future of pharmacy and want to pursue it as a career, several schools offer online degrees in pharmacy, and UF’s online pharmacy school is top rated.

What do YOU think about self-medicating? If you so, how do you avoid these potential dangers? 

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