In today’s fast paced and often financially trying world, the ill often avoid the hassles of professional medical advice. The challenges of taking time off work, coupled with the costs of potentially expensive medicines are commonly regarded as unnecessary expenses when familiar traditional home remedies are more easily available. Self-medication was widely accepted and safe in simpler times, but has grown dangerous in today’s world of modern medicines.
    Perhaps the most harmful aspect of self-medication today lies in self-treatment using prescription medications – often those of other household members, or unfinished medications from prior prescriptions. Today’s medicines often involve a wide range of side effects – many of which may be mistaken as treatment remedies. One of the most common examples today involve prescription medicines which cause drowsiness as a side effect. With insomnia becoming an ever present problem, many people often mistake such side effects as a cure to their problem – not realizing that it could cause additional problems.
    Today’s potent medications are also potential sources of problems – whereas natural herbal preparations in the past involved roots and plant matter, tablet forms involving the same medicinal ingredients, may vary in potency by several levels of magnitude while retaining the same visual appearance. As a result, visually impaired patients as well as those with less reading ability common present to primary care providers having consumed excess or inadequate amounts of the medications. Another common problem is the misconception that over-the-counter medications (those available for purchase without a prescription) hold very little harm. In reality, medications even as common as Tylenol are capable of such dangers as liver toxicity when consumed in excessive doses. Often, such outcomes could have been prevented with even a brief consultation with a medical professional.
    Severe medical problems also commonly arise due to a time delay in proper treatment. Conditions are often mistaken for simpler problems, or problems which were previously treated with simpler remedies. The scope of such conditions can range from simple infections, all the way to cancer – many of which could have been easily treated if properly diagnosed in the earliest stages. The cost of such situations is wide, varying and almost always unnecessary – ranging from higher financial burdens and loss of quality of life, to advanced states of disease progression.
    Many patients also regularly present with queries – often associated with articles they had recently learned from the Internet. While most would agree that the Internet has spawned an unprecedented flow of information, less attention has been given to the validity of most websites – especially those involving the medical sciences. While trained professionals are easily able to confirm if a website’s content is accurate and of a balanced opinion, the general public are largely not, and often take articles for face value. As well, articles written by followers of unorthodox or pseudoscience website are prone to misleading the uninformed public. Cumulatively, it is obvious that these avenues can often lead to incorrect concepts of health, or even disastrous outcomes.
    The importance of self-medication is thus both beneficial and potentially harmful. While greater availability of information can foster greater interest in maintaining oneself, poor sources of potentially incorrect knowledge can often lead to confusion and harm.
At TopDoc, we welcome you to a verified forum of medical information – a source of patient empowerment as well as comfort in realizing that one’s often unique medical needs may be tended to by often specialist physicians.
Anthony Chiam is a Pharmacist in Vancouver, Canada and regular contributor to TopDoc.