What is self-medication, causes and what are the consequences?

Whether on your own or by referral, the simple act of taking medication without medical advice can be more harmful to health than you think. This is because the dangers of self-medication go beyond worsening the disease, since the inappropriate use of medications can even cause death.

It is quite common to have a stock of pills and pills at home to relieve the most diverse pains. However, symptom relief after self-medication does not always mean that there has been adequate treatment. Much less that the problem has been solved, as the practice may be masking more serious problems.

Understand how drug misuse can affect your health and learn how to protect yourself from the dangers of self-medication!

What is self-medication?

Self-medication is characterized by the practice of taking medicines, without the prior evaluation of a health professional . In these situations, the person tends to take medication on his own or as recommended by friends, family and acquaintances. Such habit is usually related to the patient’s intention to relieve any symptoms.

What is the indiscriminate use of medicines?

Despite being related to self-medication, the indiscriminate use of medications refers to a different concept. This practice concerns the excessive and frequent consumption of medicines , even when there is a medical prescription. In such cases, it is quite common that the patient does not respect the recommended dosage, as well as the intervals of use.

Self-medication in Brazil

Brazil is a world record holder in self-medication . According to a 2016 survey by the Institute of Science, Technology and Quality (ICTQ), 72% of Brazilians are self-medicating. In addition to improper use, many are in the habit of increasing dosages to obtain more rapid relief. Another relevant data shows that 40% of the population self-diagnose through the internet.

Surprisingly, the previous edition of the same survey, carried out in 2014, also pointed out that the higher the level of education, the greater the practice of self-medication by Brazilians. Regarding gender, the data are very similar: 76.7% of men and 75.1% of women are in the habit of self-medication.

One of the alternatives to assist in combating the misuse of medicines would be to promote fractional sales. This would favor access to medicines, increase the chances of adherence to treatment and, even more importantly, avoid waste. Currently, this proposal is under analysis in the Senate, through Bill No. 98/2017.

Cases of intoxication

With regard to drug intoxication , the numbers can also be quite frightening. According to the National Toxic-Pharmacological Information System, about 30 thousand cases of hospitalization are registered per year in Brazil, with children being the biggest victims – under 5 years old represent a share of approximately 35% of this statistic.

Types of irrational use of medications

Self-medication is just one of the types of irrational use of medicines. Among the other forms are:

  • Drug abuse (polymedication);
  • Excessive use through improper administration (injectable instead of oral);
  • Use of the medicine as an exclusive form of cure for diseases (medicalization);
  • Inappropriate use of antimicrobials, both in incorrect doses and in non-bacterial infections;
  • Prescription not in accordance with clinical norms.

Causes of self-medication

The main cause of self-medication may be related to a cultural aspect, in which taking medication on your own, without the need to go to the doctor, relieves the pain immediately. However, other causes can contribute to this practice:

  • Precariousness of the health system;
  • Difficulty in making medical appointments;
  • Variety of products manufactured by the pharmaceutical industry;
  • Free sale of medicines;
  • Free access to information on diseases through the internet;
  • Lack of supervision in the sale of prescription drugs.

How does the sale of medicines work?

Some types of medication, more specifically the non-tarred ones, do not require a medical prescription, being freely sold. These remedies are characterized by low toxicity and are commonly represented by substances that treat symptoms of colds, heartburn , poor digestion and headache .

In the case of prescription drugs, prescription is essential, since these drugs have possible serious side effects. In addition, some of them, such as antibiotics , require the prescription to be retained.

It is worth mentioning that black and red stripe remedies are the most dangerous when it comes to intoxication.

Why read the package leaflet?

Almost half of Brazilians are not in the habit of reading the package leaflet, and when they do, many do not understand what the information means. This can be a problem, especially in cases of self-medication.

It is in the package insert that the relevant information about the drug is contained: indication, dosage, reactions, precautions and drug interactions. Through it, the patient has access to all possibilities of occurrence of the medication, thus being able to avoid possible complications.

In order to facilitate access to information, Anvisa offers several package inserts through an electronic file . In addition, on the page of each medication within the Consultations Remedies , the package insert can be found in an organized and easy to understand manner.

In case of any doubt, consult a pharmacist , remembering that the presence of this professional is mandatory in any pharmacy.

Most used remedies in self-medication

The leaders in the ranking of self-medication are anti-inflammatory and analgesics, especially those that relieve headaches and spine. The list also includes remedies to combat symptoms of poor digestion, colds and flu.

The list of commonly used drugs includes:

  • Amoxil ;
  • Aspirin ;
  • Dorflex ;
  • Neosaldina ;
  • Neosoro;
  • Omeprazole ;
  • Paracetamol ;
  • Eno Fruit Salt ;
  • Salonpas ;
  • Torsilax ;
  • Tylenol .

Read more: What can Neosoro cause in pregnancy?

Consequences: what are the main risks of self-medication?

It is not just the fact of taking the medicine without medical advice that can bring health risks. Excessive doses, inadequate administration and use for purposes not indicated also have dangerous consequences.

The main problem is that self-medication contributes to the difficulty and delay in the diagnosis of certain diseases, aggravating the problem.

Other related risks are:

Drug interaction

The combination of drugs can cancel or enhance the effect of the other. For this reason, it is so important to read the information contained in the field “ drug interaction ”, present in the package leaflet.

Resistance of microorganisms

The abuse of antibiotics can increase the resistance of microorganisms, compromising the effectiveness of the treatment. For this reason, today the sale of this type of medicine is only allowed with the retention of the prescription.


Painkillers, anti-inflammatories and antipyretics are the biggest causes of intoxication from the use of medications. The problem can arise when there is an overdose in the intake of the medicine, resulting in allergic reactions. In severe cases of intoxication, the patient may die.

In cases of child poisoning from medication use, the risks are even greater in children under six years of age. The accumulation of the substance in the body can compromise the functioning of the organs and generate other sequelae.


Immediate pain relief after using some medications can become an addiction, making the patient no longer live without the medicine. The problem lies in the fact that recurrent intake can cause the substance to have no effect on the body over time. In addition, drug abuse can lead to more serious health complications.

Hypochondria and drug addiction

People who are addicted to drugs and have excessive concern about health problems can be hypochondriac. However, only the habit of taking medication constantly does not characterize hypochondria. The most common symptom of this psychological disorder is the intense and prolonged fear of having a serious illness.

Therefore, it is important to seek medical help in any sign of obsession, whether related to illness or the use of medicines.

Self-medication and Ministry of Health

In order to encourage the correct administration of medicines in accordance with SUS rules, the Ministry of Health established the National Committee for the Promotion of the Rational Use of Medicines (CNPURM).

According to the World Health Organization, the concept of rational use refers to “when patients receive medications appropriate to their clinical condition, in doses appropriate to their individual needs, for an appropriate period of time and at the lowest possible cost for them and your community. ”