Self-medication – Patterns in India and the Hazards Involved


There’s one ‘doctor’ a lot of people turn to even before they consult their family physician – Dr Google. The internet has made information easy to access and easy to publish. From remedies for cancer to answers about how to cure a spiking fever- everything can be found on the internet today. Many people take the printed word as Gospel and self-medicate simply because they don’t want to consult a doctor to save on the doctor’s fees, or due to a lack of time, the clinic being far away etc. This type of self-medication may work in on-off cases but, most of the time, it only aggravates the condition.


What is Self-medication?

Self-medication refers to treating one-self without consulting a doctor. Over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements are the most common substances used to self-medicate. These substances typically do not need a prescription and can be bought at a local pharmacy or even in some supermarkets.

However, not all forms of self-medication are harmful. Having a cup of tea to soothe digestion or taking a pain reliever to calm a headache does not result in self-harm. It becomes a problem when the medication is taken regularly or without checking the appropriate dosage. Even a simple pain reliever for a headache can have serious side effects if a person overdoses on it.

Why do People Self-medicate?

Self-medication is influenced by many factors including age, gender, education, availability of medicines, socioeconomic status, etc.

  • For lower income groups in India, this is a way of saving money on doctor’s fees that may amount to anywhere between Rs 500 and Rs 5000 per consultation.
  • Government hospitals do offer free of charge treatment but these hospitals are usually understaffed and overcrowded. As a result, patients may be forced to wait for hours for a single consultation. These people may also choose to self-medicate if they cannot find a good doctor in their vicinity.
  • The easy availability of over-the-counter medication also adds to the problem. Some pharmacies may even give prescription medication without a doctor’s note or prescription. In developing countries, a layman might trust a pharmacist’s advice because he or she does not understand the probable severity of the condition.
  • Many people also store leftover medication and reuse this to treat similar conditions at a later date.
  • Some people may simply feel shy to talk to a doctor about their problem. This is largely seen in the case of sexual disorders. If they do not trust the doctor, the fear of a personal problem becoming public can push them towards self-medication. Often, men are considered to be at a higher risk of self-medication than women, because of this.
  • Self-medication is very common amongst people with body image issues. Whether it is to put on weight or to lose weight, people turn to supplements without consulting a doctor about the pros and cons. These supplements are easily available and promise miracle results in a much shorter time span when compared to a regular exercise regimen and regulated diet.

How Common is Self-medication in India?

Self-medication is very common in India. It is one of the biggest challenges for the medical fraternity here. This is observed not only amongst the uneducated but also amongst the educated urban population. About 73% of the population in Punjab self-medicates. A survey conducted on 20,000 people across 10 cities in India revealed that 52% of Indians self-medicate.

What are the Common Illnesses for Which People Self-medicate?

There are quite a few everyday illnesses for which people self-medicate. These include:

  • Respiratory illnesses are probably the most common conditions for which people self-medicate. People generally turn to a doctor only for advice if a cough becomes persistent or if it is accompanied by other symptoms.
  • Digestive ailments are probably the second most common ailments to be self- medicated. Antacids are commonly used to relieve symptoms of a digestive condition. Many people also turn towards home remedies for such issues.
  • Some of the less common diseases and conditions for which people self- medicate fall under the category of dermatology and orthopaedics. Many people self-medicate dermatological issues with topical creams and ointments on the basis of a friend’s recommendation. They fail to understand that not all skin conditions can be treated with the same medication, even if the symptoms appear similar.
  • Some people even self-medicate for psychological issues such as depression and anxiety. This may involve the use of medicines and supplements or drugs, alcohol and narcotics as well.

Dangers of Self-medication:

Self-medication is dangerous at multiple levels.

  • In many cases, self-medication suppresses the symptoms of a problem without addressing the core issue. Hence, by the time the patient seeks medical help, the condition has reached a much more advanced stage. This can create an unnecessary need for strong doses of antibiotics.
  • In other cases, the side effects of the medication being taken can cause additional issues. Many people develop allergic reactions as a result of self-medication.
  • Self- medication can also increase drug resistance. For example, a patient may take a strong antibiotic for a common cough. While the medication may suppress the cough, it may make the person’s body resistant to the drug. Thus, if he or she were to actually fall seriously ill and need that particular drug, it would be ineffective. In the case of infectious diseases, this not only puts the person in danger but can also affect the community at large.
  • Some types of prescription medication such as cough syrups, antacids and pain relievers can be habit-forming as well. Taking such medication unsupervised may make the person addicted to them.


Contrary to popular belief, self-medication is not a rural problem or a problem restricted to developing nations. Even highly educated people resort to self-medication. The solution to this issue has many facets.

  • Limiting the availability of over-the-counter medication and making pharmacists liable for the medication they sell can be helpful.
  • On a personal front, individuals need to be educated about the dangers of self-medication even for seemingly minor issues like headaches.
  • At the same time, medical aid needs to be made more easily accessible. And that is where Medlife E-Consult can be really helpful. You can consult a specialist anytime anywhere by simply logging onto Medlife E-Consult and booking an appointment. Doctors are available 24/7.

With the entry of e-consultation into the country, the healthcare landscape is undergoing a massive transformation. You have access to a specialist doctor anytime anywhere. So, before the thought of popping in an unprescribed pill occurs to you next time- Stop! A doctor is a click away! Consult online, get the digitally signed prescription mailed to your inbox and what’s more through Medlife you can also get lab tests done with the samples collected right from home and also get medicines delivered right at home through express delivery! No more excuses to self-medicate!

News on Self-medication:

Activists in Ghana Are Fighting Against Self Medication

– 17th Dec 2018

The Hajia Damata Foundation is an Islamic foundation functioning in Ghana, Africa. The organization has taken up several causes, around which they help generate more knowledge and awareness. One such practice is that of self-medication. The organization has been actively asking its followers as well as the communities it engages with to desist from self-medicating, as more often than not it can actually hamper the healing process and cause more damage to the body.

Another important cause that the organization is working towards is limiting the influence of quack doctors. One social evil in Ghana is that its citizens still rely on un-certified, unskilled, and un-qualified individuals for their healthcare. These non-state actors, pose as faith healers, or quack doctors, who prescribe medicines to citizens without any knowledge of the salts involved in making those medicines, of possible allergies a patient may suffer from, of alternatives to the said medicines, proper dosage, as well as method of administration, which means that not only are they hampering the recovery of the body, they are also endangering the patient’s life.

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