Why Taking Prescription-Free Medication is Risky

The dangers of over the counter medication

There’s a common misconception that medication is only dangerous if it comes with a doctor’s prescription attached. Another one is that, if medicine prescribed for a friend by a physician was alright for them, it will be perfectly fine for you.

The truth is that, whether it’s something you bought over-the-counter (OTC) at a drug store or a couple of powerful painkillers given to you by a friend, self-medicating and self-diagnosis can be risky. Many think, because OTC healthcare is a multi-billion-dollar industry, the benefits must outweigh the risks. Surely?

A closer look shows that two old proverbs are as true today as they were when they were first uttered however many centuries ago: One man’s meat is another man’s poison, and the difference between medicine and poison is usually a matter of dosage.

Risky Business: Self-Diagnosis

Medical professionals such as the Hartford HealthCare Medical Group’s Dr David Wolpaw do admit sites such as MayoClinic.org and WebMD.com are often reliable sources of information. However, he cautioned against relying on them alone.

If the excitement of playing Blackjack online sets your heart a-palpitating a bit more than normal, consult your doctor, rather than relying on Dr Google’s routine misdiagnoses. It’s just not worth the stress, as the medical group’s primary healthcare physician explained.

Wolpaw said a 20-year-old whose lifestyle did not put him in any cancer-risk category made an appointment to see him because he suspected he had throat cancer. He had searched for possible causes of his sore throat. The physician performed various tests, received the results, and reassured his patient that it was nothing more than a common cold.

One of the doctor’s colleagues, a rheumatologist, had told him of a patient who had arrived with a red rash on her face, and an internet diagnosis of autoimmune disease lupus. According to the patient, the rash appeared after she spent a day at the beach. One of the world’s most famous search engines had apparently failed to suggest sunburn as a possible cause of the symptom.

Hidden Dangers: Self-Medicating

Seemingly harmless medication comes with risks
Source: Pixabay

Many people are used to self-medicating; some to the point that, if push came to shove, their bathroom cabinets could serve as black market pharmacies. Whether you have indigestion, eye strain, a sore throat, or a headache, there is either OTC medication for it, or possibly a friend who will give you a couple of their prescribed pills, because it worked for them.

There is no denying that millions, if not billions, of people have self-medicated successfully, and that many OTC preparations help countless individuals daily. However, in the wrong doses or combinations with other drugs or substances, they can be dangerous, if not deadly. Even the misuse of something as commonplace as aspirin can have lethal consequences.

The St Louis College of Pharmacy’s Prof Amy Tiemeier said OTC medicine was designed for short-term use. She warned that long-term usage could not only cause problems, but also exacerbate existing conditions that require proper medical attention.

A warning about sodium phosphate laxatives issued by the US Food and Drug Administration earlier this year also raises concerns about a DIY approach to healthcare. According to the FDA, misuse of the drugs had led to 54 cases of serious side effects and to 13 deaths. The most common issues were kidney-damaging unusual blood electrolyte levels and dehydration. The administration has also warned about medicines that contain more than 325mg per dose of the potentially liver-damaging common painkiller, acetaminophen.

Data Risk: Internet Diagnosis

In addition to freaking people out with misdiagnoses and suggesting OTC medication that could have an effect opposite to that intended, medical websites can also put them at risk of data theft. After all, when searching for answers about symptoms you experience, you are likely to input sensitive personal information – but all without the reassurance of physician-patient confidentiality.

The reality is that sites want clicks. In 2014, the Canadian Privacy Commissioner reprimanded Google for violating the country’s privacy laws when it displayed sleep apnoea treatment retail adverts after a user had performed searches about the condition.

If you are determined to be your own physician, it may be best to always get a second opinion from a qualified medical professional who won’t sell your details to third-party advertisers. Just to be safe.