Self-medication: possibilities and limits

Self-medication has increased dramatically in Germany and will continue to increase.Studies confirm this trend: Germans are increasingly avoiding visits to the doctor and at the same time increasingly treating themselves with over-the-counter medication. According to their own statement, more than every third German citizen (35%) goes to the doctor less often due to the fact that non-prescription drugs are no longer eligible for reimbursement. Long waiting times at the doctors and co-payments for pharmaceuticals mean that many of those affected first go to the pharmacy. But self-medication also has its limits. These are achieved when health disorders are more than just minor, temporary disorders or the cause can no longer be clearly assessed by the person concerned. In such a case, the cause can be more serious – then it is essential to always see a doctor.

Self-medication options
The prerequisite for any self-medication is that one recognizes the disorder and can deal with it. Conversely, this means: All disorders that you do not know where they come from or that you are unsure about must be examined by the doctor.

Before buying an over the counter medicine that you do not know, it is advisable to seek advice from a doctor or pharmacist. Before taking any medication, it is advisable to read the package insert carefully and to follow the instructions for use.

If medicines are not dosed correctly or taken at the wrong time, this can impair their effectiveness.

Does the ingested preparation help? Are the symptoms decreasing or are there other complaints? Observing the body and the complaints is an essential prerequisite for self-medication.


Limits to Self-Medication
If you are not sure that your own diagnosis is correct, you should always consult your doctor. If the symptoms persist for more than three to four days, the doctor must also be consulted.


Do not take any remaining stocks from the medicine cabinet! You can also use eye drops or your sister’s antibiotic yourself? Basically no: Antibiotics do not belong in the medicine cabinet, firstly, because they should always be used up and, secondly, every infection must be treated with the right antibiotic at the doctor’s. Eye drops are only stable for 6 weeks and must not be used afterwards because they are bacterial.


Restraint among pregnant women, breastfeeding women and children. Special precautionary measures apply to pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as to babies and small children. Therefore, it is best for these groups of people to see a doctor straight away.


Children need different medications than adults. Children – especially toddlers and infants – have a different metabolism , their immune systems are not yet mature and many enzymes and hormones are not as effective as in adults. The absorption of the drugs, the effect in the organism and the excretion also work differently. Therefore, drugs for children are not the same as for parents. Be sure to talk to a doctor or pharmacist beforehand.Natural medicine is always thought to be harmless. In many cases this is not the case. One example is the plant-based cardiac glycoside digitoxin, which in higher doses can lead to cardiac arrest. Another example is herbal laxatives , which these days are less recommended than their chemical counterparts.


Examples of limits in self-medication
Stomach problems like heartburn can be treated well with gastric therapy drugs. However, if there is a more serious illness – for example inflammation of the stomach and esophagus, stomach ulcers or stomach cancer – this can be masked by self-medication. Therefore do not wait too long to clarify the symptoms!

Long-term pain relievers increase the risk of drug-related headaches.

You can also get sleeping pills without a doctor’s prescription. Long-lasting sleep disorders over several weeks should be treated by a doctor, their cause should be clarified.


Antiallergic drugs that are no longer prescribed on a prescription should definitely be taken, otherwise the allergy could worsen. In the worst case, there is a risk of changing floors – namely allergic asthma.

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