Risks of self-medication

Medication is the use of medicines on their own initiative without any intervention by the doctor (neither in the diagnosis of the disease nor in the prescription or supervision of treatment). 

Self-medication in a common habit in our society and is not free of risks: we use drugs for headaches, gastric problems, to relax, cough, allergy, etc. 

Responsible self-medication can be convenient if it is used to treat minor symptoms such as pain, fever, heartburn, cold, etc. and for a limited time. 

In fact there are medicines that do not need a prescription, called advertising pharmaceutical specialties or EFP.

Even so, the fact that a medicine is a VET and that it is dispensed without a prescription hope does not mean that it is harmless and can not be harmful in certain situations since it is still a medicine. 

For this reason in case of any doubt should consult the doctor or pharmacist. 

Another very frequent and different case of self-medication would be self-medication with non-EFP drugs that have to be prescribed by a doctor. This is a discouraged practice. 

An example would be the taking of antibiotics without medical prescription in case of suspicion of an infection. Antibiotics should never be taken on their own initiative without the supervision of a doctor.

The most demanded medications for self-medication are:


The figures available on the consumption of these drugs indicate a massive exposure of society to analgesics in all age groups and for a broad sample of diseases. 

When these drugs are abused or used indiscriminately without control by a professional, they can cause serious adverse effects related to the digestive system or kidney. 


Antibiotics are requested by the patients themselves in the clinic, even in spite of an infectious medical diagnosis that does not require its use.

Others reuse a previous container stored in the home medicine cabinet or go directly to the pharmacy, they ask for a known brand and they or their children self-administer it. 

Likewise, according to a recent European comparative study, Spain is among the countries with the highest degree of self-medication with antibiotics and of storing them in the European home. 

In relation to this, Spain shows very unfavorable records of resistance to antibiotics, especially in bacterial pathogens of extrahospitalar scope. 

For all these reasons, the Ministry of Health and Consumer Affairs began the campaign in 2006 “Responsible Use of Antibiotics. Using them well today, tomorrow will protect us. “, With the collaboration of doctors, dentists, pharmacists and nurses.


Other medications also used as self-medication are:

  • Topical antiseptics
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements
  • Influenza and antitussives
  • Digestive, laxative, antacid and antiflatulent

We must remember that although over-the-counter medications or VET have less risk, they are not exempt from them and must be used with caution.

Self-medication without medical or pharmaceutical control involves a series of health risks that in most cases are unknown to citizens:

  • Toxicity: side effects, adverse reactions and in some cases intoxication.
  • Lack of effectiveness, because they are used in situations not indicated. For example, the taking of antibiotics to treat viral processes against which these drugs are not effective.
  • Dependency or addiction.
  • Masking of serious clinical processes and consequently delay in diagnosis and treatment.
  • Interactions with other medications or foods that the person is taking. There may be an enhancement or a decrease in the effect of the medication.
  • Resistance to antibiotics. The excessive use of antibiotics can cause the microorganisms to develop defense mechanisms in front of these medicines so that they stop being effective.

These risks can be avoided by following a few basic tips on self-medication:

  • Do not take any medicine WITH RECIPE, without it being prescribed by a doctor.
  • In the case of EFP medications, ask your pharmacist for advice.
  • In case of pregnancy, breastfeeding, presence of chronic diseases or if they are children, always consult the doctor before taking any medication, even if it is a VET.
  • The duration of self-medication with EFP has to be reasonable. If symptoms continue or your condition worsens consult your doctor.
  • Inform your doctor / s of all the medicines you take or have taken (also medicinal herbs, vitamins, dietary supplements, homeopathy, etc.).
  • Read and keep the package leaflet for all medications. It is important to know what is taken, what to take it for, how and when it is taken.
  • Keep the medicines in their original packaging. It contains important information such as expiration, the batch, if it should be stored in a refrigerator, etc. In addition, the packaging protects the medicine and guarantees its proper preservation.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol when you are taking medication because it may affect your ability to react, for example when driving vehicles or performing other dangerous activities.