God created man in his own image – in such a way that, given adequate diet, rest, and exercise, there should be no need for supplements of any kind. If symptoms occur which need help, it is far better to check with your doctor, so that these can be diagnosed and corrected.
What is self-medication?
The chemist sells a wide variety of goods, mainly in these categories: sedatives, drugs for colds, tonics, (vitamins and iron), stomach and bowel medicines, and analgesics.
If we look at these in more detail, we find under the heading of “drugs for colds” a vast array of lozenges, nasal drops, cough expectorants, and linctuses. These can certainly, as regards symptoms, improve one, and they are satisfactory for brief flu-like illnesses.
However, if the illness progresses or continues, it is important that your diagnosis is checked; complications easily could be missed, such as middle ear infection, which if not properly treated could cause deafness in later life.
There is quite a collection of “tonics” preparations to make you feel better. If we analyze why you feel the need of a tonic, we find you are feeling tired, “run down,” and tense, cannot eat and have no energy for anything. Surely it is better to find the real cause of this.
Of course, people are often helped by tonics. Those containing a mild sedative allow the person to relax, when he can expend his energy better. Others do stimulate the appetite. Perhaps it is their sour taste that does this, perhaps it is psychological – you take something, and thereby obtain the advertised benefit.
Vitamins have had much publicity lately; but certainly, no healthy person on a balanced diet needs added vitamins.
Some vitamins in high dosage can cause harm. This has happened in infants who were overdosed with vitamin D. They became listless, off their food, with nausea and vomiting; they became weak and showed evidence of great disturbance in kidney function and the use of body calcium.
Iron is also taken without need. A lot of people consider themselves to be anemic, and so to need additional iron. Again, if on a good diet no one is anemic. If one is or thinks he is, it is better to consult a doctor. Then the proof of anemia can be obtained and the cause found and corrected.
The cause may be inadequate blood formation due to lack of certain vitamins, or hormones; to unrecognized infection; or else the blood may be destroyed too quickly or lost. Cure of bleeding peptic ulcer or of piles is far better than continuous iron therapy.
More often the patient is not anemic but is tired, worn out by worry for family, or fears of cancer, or unhappiness, and quite often this can be helped by discussion ann reassurance.
Iron will not be absorbed if the blood count is normal. The cells lining the bowel will not take up additional supplies. Iron is taken unnecessarily can do harm – often it is responsible for bowel upsets and accidental poisoning in young children.
There are many indigestion remedies, to stop flatulence, heartburn, and pain, and these can relieve symptoms well. How much better, though, to have a full story taken, a physical examination and the relevant investigations, to get a correct diagnosis and unproven treatment, and to exclude cancer, the fear of which increases indigestion and causes further Psychosomatic malfunction.
Nervous dyspepsia may settle down with a discussion of the problem, proper diet, and a mild sedative.
Excess dosage of antacids can cause an interesting state of tetany, characterized by painful spasms of the muscles in the arms, feet, and larynx. This is easily cured – but it should never have happened. Less easily cured is kidney failure from prolonged milk and antacids.
Purgatives also sell well. But are they really needed? When constipation first occurs it is preferable to find the cause and have it corrected. Quite often this is simple, requiring more exercise, more fluid, more fruit and bulk in the diet, and adequate time in the toilet.
If good habit-training is ignored, aperients of greater strength are used successively. But oils such as paraffin can “mop up” the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, causing deficiency symptoms from lack of these.
Recent increasing constipation could be a bowel obstruction from cancer or adhesions and could rupture on over-enthusiastic purgation. An acute appendicitis also could rupture with a severe aperient.
Analgesics – aspirin, APC, Alka-Seltzer, and the like-all are good for reducing pain and temperature, excellent for flu, and (when used in small amounts) for brief illnesses. They cause harm if prolonged use is made of them, and certainly pain prolonged should be diagnosed.
The APC is a habit and a bad one. Some women feel they cannot start the day without one and it is there, at their bedside, to give them support (mainly psychological) for the long day ahead. However, in some people, six APCs per day for three years can cause permanent kidney damage; they give themselves a severely restricted life without need.
All these things may produce gastric irritation and so, if taken on an empty stomach, may lead to small bleeding points in the stomach. These can cause anemia, or sometimes such an acute profuse hemorrhage that transfusion is needed.
Certain sedative tablets are commonly sold. In most cases, the need for these can be eliminated after discussion, or else more desirable ones can be prescribed.
The dangers of sharing medications or taking expired drugs
Another important aspect of self-medication is the taking of other people’s medicine – or the taking of expired drugs.
Mrs. X attends her doctor for dizziness, and this being found to be due to high blood pressure the appropriate tablet is prescribed. When her pregnant daughter becomes giddy, she doses herself up on mother’s pills, perhaps with disastrous results.
This does not happen so much with a good doctor-patient relationship; the patient’s disease is discussed, with the effects of the tablets. Gone are the days of “black magic,” when the doctor would not commit himself and gave no indication of what the medicine did.
People frequently fail to complete a full course of antibiotics, and then save the tablets until the next illness. If similar symptoms are felt, the tablets are recommended without an adequate diagnosis, in the hope of curing the disease before it gets a hold.
Many serious illnesses are masked in this way and diagnosed later after the damage has been done. We have seen a child with a ruptured appendix, hopefully treated in this way with penicillin, which had been prescribed last time when it looked just as sick, with a temperature.
Similarly, a child with meningitis needed additional antibiotics, and in higher doses, for recovery before complicating adhesions could cause permanent brain damage.
Left-over tablets have often expired so that the expected clinical effect is never obtained.
With all medicines, prescribed by doctors and those self-prescribed, great care should be taken to keep them away from young children. These days they are made so inviting, it is little wonder poisoning causes so much trouble. It is tragic that a drug not really needed should kill a much-loved child.
The Pill is now perhaps one of the most-used drugs, and people are often upset that they cannot obtain it without a doctor’s prescription.
As a contraceptive, it is effective and, as far as we know, safe. However, it is important that every woman using it should have a medical check so that undiagnosed disease of the genital system may be recognized before beginning treatment, and any symptom that occurs after it begins can be investigated. The “privacy” of the chemist’s shop does not allow for this.