Self-care and self-medication: A commentary

How to cite this article:
Mahapatra T. Self-care and self-medication: A commentary. Ann Trop Med Public Health 2017;10:505-6


How to cite this URL:
Mahapatra T. Self-care and self-medication: A commentary. Ann Trop Med Public Health [serial online] 2017 [cited 2020 Sep 26];10:505-6. Available from:

Self-medication has been defined by the World Health Organization as treatment of self-diagnosed disorders or symptoms by use of medicines or intermittent/continued use of medicines prescribed by physician for chronic/recurring diseases.[1] Self-medication is one of the essential components of self-care, which includes health-related decision-making of individuals and family members.[1] Given limited access to health care system and scarcity of health care providers in resource-constrained settings, self-medication has been well recognized as an alternative option to relieve symptoms associated with minor illnesses.[2]

Successful self-medication includes correct recognition of symptoms, selection of a medicine (or other product) with appropriate dosage and schedule. In addition, one should be aware of the person’s past medical history, existence of other co-morbidities, and concurrent medications. Another essential step is the continuous monitoring of response to treatment and occurrence of potential side effects.[1] Potential benefits of self-medication include easy and rapid access, wider availability of drugs, greater choice of treatment, and increase in patients’ sense of responsibility for their own health provided consumers practice self-medication responsibly.[1] Furthermore, it can quickly alleviate minor symptoms, save patients’ time, money, and hassle of visiting a doctor.[2] Safe self-medication also reduces unnecessary health care utilization and associated cost.

Self-medication is a common practice in the world and the reported prevalence is quite high. However, because of widely differing definitions for self-medication, study designs, different recall-periods, and population characteristics, there were marked heterogeneities in prevalence data obtained from previous studies. A recently published systemic review on self-medication behavior found that the prevalence of reported self-medication ranged between 8.5% and 98% with huge disparities across countries.[2] Major reasons of self-medication included suffering from minor illness, health care expenses, lack of sufficient time, prior experience in using a drug, and long waiting time during visit to a qualified practitioner. Analgesics and anti-infective drugs were most commonly used drugs for self-medication.[2] Age, gender, education, and occupation were found to be significantly associated with higher self-medication.[2],[3]

Despite such potential benefits, unfortunately self-medication from being a safe practice has turned into an irresponsible behavior.[4] Use of previously prescribed or leftover drugs for own, family members, friends, incomplete adherence to treatment regimen, and change in applied dose of prescribed drugs were some of the potential threats to self-medication.[2],[5] Consequences of such harmful self-medication might led to incorrect self-diagnosis, inappropriate choice of therapy, bacterial resistance, drug interactions, failure to seek appropriate care, prolonged treatment period, serious adverse effects (often irreversible), treatment failure, drug dependency, and delay in treatment for malignant cases.[1],[4]

Self-medication has become a global concern particularly in the developing countries. The estimated burden of self-medication was found to be quite high in countries like Iran, Chile, Vietnam, China, India, and Palestine.[2] Given easy availability of over the counter drugs without prescription and poor access to health care, practice of self-medication became rampant in these countries. Perhaps the most alarming fact is that the majority of people are not aware of serious consequences of inappropriate self-medication. A cross-sectional survey among residents of Delhi revealed that about 87% users were not aware of risks of self-medication.[6] Most of the people agree with the concept that self-medication is harmless and do not intend to change behaviors in the future.

The practice of self-medication was also observed to be considerably high among adolescents across countries in the world. A systemic review of self-medication practice among adolescents showed that an estimated 2%-92% young people aged 13-18 years had experience of self-medication.[7] Misuse of both over the counter drugs and prescription-only medicines were reported to be high. Increase in age, female gender, maternal education, and familial practices were found to be significant predictors of self-mediation. There were wide gaps in knowledge and awareness regarding adverse effects and interactions of medicines among teens.[7]

Self-medication is determined by a complex interplay of self-perceived health risk, socio-economic status, influence of pharmacists, family members and friends, familiarity and easy access to pharmaceuticals, and difficulties in health seeking behavior.[5] Therefore, a comprehensive understanding of these triggering factors is urgently required to reduce irrational use of drugs in self-medication. Furthermore, strict regulatory enforcement of law for dispensing and rationale sale of over the counter drugs will be effective in controlling harmful practice of self-medication. Monitoring and supportive supervision of suitability of a medicinal product for use in self-medication may be helpful in reducing such risky behaviors. Regular training of pharmacists regarding proper and safe use of medical products should also be taken into account. Awareness creations through counseling and education on proper use in the community and among school students seem mandatory. Dissemination of information regarding pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, indications, safety, efficacy, and possible adverse effects through Internet and related communications may be helpful in generating some awareness regarding safe and rationale use of medicinal products.



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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



Guidelines for the regulatory assessment of medicinal products for use in self-medication. World Health Organization (WHO) 2000;Available from: [Last accessed on 2016 July 12].
Shaghaghi A, Asadi M, Allahverdipour H. Predictors of self-medication behavior: a systematic review. Iran J Public Health 2014;43:136-46.
Selvaraj K, Kumar SG, Ramalingam A. Prevalence of self-medication practices and its associated factors in Urban Puducherry, India. Perspect Clin Res 2014;5:32-6.
Ruiz ME. Risks of self-medication practices. Curr Drug Saf 2010;5:315-23.
Loyola Filho AI, Lima-Costa MF, Uchoa E. Bambui project: a qualitative approach to self-medication. Cad Saude Publica 2004;20:1661-69.
Lal V, Goswami A, Anand K. Self-medication among residents of urban resettlement colony, New Delhi. Indian J Public Health 2007;51:249-51.
Shehnaz SI, Agarwal AK, Khan N. A systematic review of self-medication practices among adolescents. J Adolesc Health 2014;55:467-83.

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/1755-6783.213160

Paul Mies has now been involved with test reports and comparing products for a decade. He is a highly sought-after specialist in these areas as well as in general health and nutrition advice. With this expertise and the team behind, they test, compare and report on all sought-after products on the Internet around the topics of health, slimming, beauty and more. The results are ultimately summarized and disclosed to readers.


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