Dangers of Self Medication

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Due to increasing cost of consultations and time constraints, pill popping and self-medication are becoming common. Up to an extent, treating yourselves with the help of chemists, and knowledge culled from the
media is O.K., but you must understand the implications of this as by trying to save a little time and money, you may be endangering your health and even life.  Some unscrupulous and unqualified chemists may also give you outdated, substandard or wrong medicines without your being aware of it.

Vitamin and mineral supplements are the commonest pills to be self-prescribed and there are dangers of their long-term overuse —-

B complex vitamins and vitamin C:
Since these are water-soluble and any excess is thrown out with urine, they are considered totally safe. In fact you will be surprised at how unsafe they can be.

Excessive intake of B complex vitamins can lead to skin changes, activation of stomach ulcers,
precipitate jaundice and diabetes, lead to kidney stone formation, bring about a drop in B.P., cause nerve damage, lead to loss of balance and even fits!

B  – Complex injections – those much sought after panaceas for ‘weakness’ can actually kill, if there is a reaction.

Vitamin C – It is called a wonder–drug, and the myths surrounding it are legion – but don’t get carried away by any kind of propaganda. Indiscriminate use of this vitamin can impair
nerve functions, cause gout, reduce bone growth, lead to kidney stone formation and destroy vitamin B12 from food. Also, if you are a diabetic, remember – your urine may show false sugar reaction if you are taking vitamin C.

The above water-soluble vitamins are relatively safe; but fat-soluble ones get stored in the body and act as slow toxins.

Vitamin A: A very useful vitamin in correct doses; but any excess
intake even for a short while can lead to problems.  In the beginning we can suffer from irritability, vomiting, loss of appetite and headache.  Over a longer period of intake, we will have roughening of skin, swollen gums, enlargement of liver and spleen, and even go into fits, or become unconscious!

Vitamin D:  Excessive doses can cause fatigue, headache, nausea, diarrhoea, kidney stone formation and even kidney damage.

Vitamin E: In many people, large doses of vitamin E have been given, without apparent serious side effects; but in a few, it can lead to malaise, headache, nausea, fatigue, blurred vision, gastro-intestinal disturbances and even hypertension.  In men, it can cause breast enlargement and feminisation.  In two classes of people, it should never be used with extreme caution– in those taking blood-thinning drugs, in whom it can cause bleeding from various parts of the body, and in infants where life threatening side effects may occur. 

Minerals: Minerals like calcium and iron are also commonly taken without actual need. Iron can lead to dyspepsia, constipation, diarrhoea, vomiting and even bleeding from stomach. Iron injections can cause local discolouration of skin, enlargement of lymph nodes, and sometimes lead to a reaction – mild with intramuscular, and severe with intravenous administration. Excessive iron can also get deposited in various organs and damage them over a period of time. There are also certain types of anaemias in which iron should not be used—ask your doctor.

Calcium: Calcium is again highly misused.  Excessive calcium is
deposited in blood vessels and various parts of the body and can lead to hardening of arteries, kidney stone etc.
Injectable calcium can cause serious reaction if improperly administered. So consult with your doctor whether you really need calcium supplements.

Fluoride: A special mention should be made of fluoride, because of the free availability of fluoridated toothpastes. There are certain belts in India & all over the world, where fluoride content of water is very high, so consider the consequences of using fluoridated toothpastes(however minute the fluoride content)  by people living in these areas. Too much fluoride can discolour our teeth and stiffen our spine. This is still a
controversial subject, with dentists arguing for and against it.

Chromium: Doses larger than 200 µg are toxic and can cause difficulty in concentration and fainting.

Copper: More than 10 milligrams can be toxic to nerves and liver.

Magnesium: Doses larger than 400 milligrams can cause stomach
irritation and diarrhea.

Molybdenum: Doses larger than 200 µg can damage the kidneys

Zinc: Doses larger than 20milligrams can cause anaemia and copper

Liquid tonics and cough syrups: Many liquid tonics and cough syrups contain sugar, which
should not be taken by diabetics, and worse, some contain alcohol, which can prove addicting especially in children.

Painkillers and cold remedies: Next in order of frequency
are painkillers and cold remedies.  These medicines can cause acidity, even severe bleeding from the stomach, fluid retention in body, increase in blood pressure, and even kidney damage, besides which cold remedies can interfere with your concentration powers, precipitate urine retention in a person with enlarged prostate, and cause glaucoma too (increase in fluid pressure in eyes).

Cold & cough remedies with PPA: Many common cold and cough medications, containing PPA, (phenylpropanolamine—it has been banned now), can cause bleeding in the brain, which can lead even to sudden death.

Anti diarrheals should be taken sparingly since it is not a good idea to ‘choke up’ diarrhoea and antispasm drugs (for stomach colic) should be used with special caution in a case of inflamed appendix or bowel obstruction.

Drugs for hyperacidity: Indiscriminate and prolonged acid suppression can sometimes lead to cancer. Also acid suppression drug called proton pump inhibitor used very commonly can cause magnesium deficiency, leading to irregularity in heartbeat, and osteoporosis. It can also lead to vitamin-B12 and iron deficiency. Omeprazole also interferes with the action of Clopidogrel, a commonly used blood thinning drug.

Drugs for vomiting should always be used with care,
since vomiting can be due to jaundice and the patient may go into coma also many of these drugs can cause peculiar distortions of face and body, which may scare the patient or get him wrongly labeled as a psychiatric case.

Electrolyte powders = “energy”? –  Many patients equate electrolyte powders with energy. Electrolyte supplementations are needed when there is loss due to vomiting, diarrhoea or increased sweating (as in fevers). But patients must understand that their indiscriminate intake can be harmful in
patients with blood pressure, kidney damage etc. Electrolytes must therefore be taken only when prescribed by doctors & not randomly for “energy.”

Sleeping pills are addicting and should not be taken continuously unless prescribed by your doctor.

Antibiotics taken indiscriminately or in inadequate doses are also dangerous, not only for the person who takes them but for the community too, as resistant strains of bacteria may develop which will not respond to available drugs. So taking antibiotics on your own should definitely be avoided.

If you have liver, kidney or heart problems, be very careful about what medicines you take and diabetics and hypertensives should not try to treat themselves, as erratic control can lead to complications and don’t take cold remedies or anti-amoebic drugs and drive a vehicle, especially if it is also after some cocktails at dinner –
you may be heading for trouble.

Unsupervised and long term use of steroid ointments and creams can also be dangerous.

Pregnancy and children – In the first three months of pregnancy, as far as possible, no medication should be taken including vitamins, as the foetus is in the stage of development and congenital deformities can occur (except folic acid vitamin which prevents deformities).  Caution has to be exercised during lactation (breast feeding) also, since the drugs taken by the mother may affect the child. As for children, always remember the dictum “Child is not a compressed adult”. Children should not take aspirin containing medications, tetracycline
and quinolone group of drugs etc. and it is important to give medicines only according to body weight of the child.

Now that you are aware of the dangers of self-prescribed medications, exercise caution next time you take
drugs on your own for common ailments.
It will be safer to consult your doctor and keep a set of common drugs, which can be used after telephonically consulting her/ him regarding their safety and side effects.

Dangers of admission to hospital

There are many patients who like to get admitted to hospital for fluid administration, (“saline and glucose”) thinking it will give them strength, and others want to be admitted for routine fevers and minor ailments. It is important to understand that admission to hospital will increase their chances of acquiring Nosocomial (hospital) infections from other patients, which may be very difficult to cure; hence admissions should be encouraged only where really needed.



Researchers from the University of Iowa have come up with a simple but potentially effective way to increase physical activity among office employees: put a portable pedaling device under each desk.


Employees who used the pedal device the most experienced weight loss, better concentration and fewer sick days.

Image credit: UI Department of Health and Human Physiology

High use of pedal device led to weight loss, better concentration and fewer sick days

Many employers have attempted to encourage physical activity in the workplace by providing employees with shared exercise facilities.

For 16 weeks, they provided 27 overweight or obese office workers in Iowa City with their own active Life Trainer pedal device, which was placed under their desk.
The researchers analyzed the pedal time of each employee via a monitor attached to the device. On average, employees pedaled 50 minutes each day over the 16-week study period.
Each employee was also sent an email three times weekly, reminding them to alter their posture, stand regularly and offering them tips on how to get more active at work.
The researchers found that employees who engaged in no physical activity during their workday prior to the study engaged in light-intensity physical activity following introduction of the pedal device.

What is more, employees who pedaled the most experienced weight loss, had fewer sick days and even had better concentration at work than those who pedaled the least.

“This is something that could be provided to just about any employee, regardless of the size of their company or office. It’s right at their feet, and they can use it whenever they want without feeling self-conscious in front of their co-workers.”—according to the study.





Hope you found this issue useful and interesting. Before signing off, we at Ayushman wish you a healthy month—Ayushman bhava!


Dr. Geeta Sundar MD

Chief Health Counsel, IndiaOnlineHealth

5-6/A, Ramyanagari, Bibwewadi, Pune – 411037