Q. What is self-medication?
Self-medication is the treatment of common health problems with medicines especially designed and labelled for use without medical supervision and approved as safe and effective for such use.
Medicines for self-medication are often called 'nonprescription' or 'over the counter' (OTC) and are available without a doctor's prescription through pharmacies. In some countries OTC products are also available in supermarkets and other outlets. Medicines that are available from doctors with a prescription are called prescription products (Rx products).
The term 'responsible self-medication' is often used to emphasise the appropriate use of OTC medicines by informed patients and consumers, with healthcare professional support where necessary. By contrast, the term 'self-prescription' is used for the inappropriate practice of using prescription products without medical supervision. Self-prescription is an unfortunate feature of a number of developing countries where good healthcare systems are absent or weak.
Q. What are the benefits of responsible self-medication?
In a world of scarce government and in many countries scarce individual resources, responsible self-medication should be a cornerstone of healthcare provision and health policy.
Responsible self-medication can:
- Help to prevent and treat symptoms and ailments that do not require a doctor;
- Reduce the pressure on medical services where health care personnel are insufficient;
- Increase the availability of health care to populations living in rural or remote areas;
- Enable patients to control their own chronic conditions.
These benefits translate into patient and consumer wellness and productivity, economic gain for employers, and cost savings to healthcare budgets through reduced medicine budget cost and reduced physician visits.
Q. What sort of conditions can be treated through self-medication?
In most countries patients and consumers are able to have direct access to products for many conditions, such as: Acne, Allergic conjunctivitis, Arthritic pain, Caries prevention, Cholesterol lowering/lipid control, Colds, Cold sores, Constipation, Cough, Dermatitis/eczema, Diarrhoea, Emergency contraception, Erectile dysfunction, Fever, Flu prevention and treatment, Haemorrhoids, Hay fever, Headache, Indigestion/heartburn, Insomnia, Male pattern baldness, Mild/moderate pain, Minor cuts and bruises, Mouth ulcers, Nausea, Neural tube defect prevention, Smoking addiction, Sore throat, Symptoms of PMS, Topical Bacterial infections and Weight management.
The list of treatable conditions and available products continues to grow as the benefits of responsible self-medication are realised.
Q. What does "Rx-to-OTC switch" mean?
The transfer of prescription ("Rx") medicines to nonprescription or OTC status is known as the "Rx-to-OTC switch". Many new medicines are first introduced as prescription medicines. After a sufficient time has passed in the use of the medicine by many patients and large-scale experience and scientific information has been gathered, for suitable conditions a manufacturer may elect to submit an application to the appropriate authority for the medicine to be given OTC status.
Q. Where can I find out about products available for self-medication?
Locally, your pharmacist or other healthcare professional should be able to help you. More broadly, there are many organisations and websites that are dedicated to health, including those of companies that research and manufacture medicines, and the country associations that represent the companies. Our 'useful links' section gives some key examples.