Self-Treatment Does More Harm Than Good

self medication can be harmful

Contributed by- Dr. Snehal Singh

Having health problems? Should you see a doctor or take medicines yourself? Worth thinking, isn’t it?

This is an era of ‘DIY – Do It Yourself’, allowing us to self-create a lot of things and it perfectly suits home decor purposes. But when it comes to your health and safety, self-treatment or self-medication can do more harm than good.

No doubt, these days there are many health problems, which need self-care. However, self-care is all about taking measures to protect your health and prevent illnesses or further complications, as advised by your doctor. On the other hand, self-treatment starts with self-diagnosis and  involves the use of medical products, antibiotics or any over-the-counter medicines, without proper advice from the doctor. This may not always be safe and can create more problems rather than treating the condition.

Self treatment includes, self-diagnosis and self-medication; both are not recommended. The knowledge about a medical condition that is easily available on the internet or as advises from our near ones and some that comes from experience can surely help us understand a disease or its complication, but is not sufficient to diagnose a health problem correctly. Rather it is as harmful and as tasteless as a half cooked meal. While concern for our health is good, it is effective only when it is supported by complete medical diagnosis and expert advice.


Self-treatment and your health

With the increasing use of technology and internet, people have greater access to medical and health information. Many health portals, symptom checker tools and other health apps, have given a boost to the habit of self-diagnosis. Similarly, easily available information about medical drugs and their uses, also makes it feel simple to use medicines without proper medical advice.

But is that the case? Are common people in a position to correctly diagnose medical problems? Is it fair to disregard medical advice and choose self-treatment? Answering these questions is necessary to ensure our own good health and safety.

There are two aspects that need attention. First, is diagnosis and then there is medication. There are many technical aspects of drug usage, their doses, side effects, interactions with other drugs and food that common people are not aware of. Moreover, the use of medicines is largely based on accurate diagnosis, which is the backbone even for medical treatment by doctors. Unless the precise cause of the condition is known, proper treatment cannot be planned. And proper diagnosis comes only from appropriate investigations, as advised by the doctors.

Irrational use is very common in case of antibiotics, anti-malaria drugs, cough syrups, skin creams and most over-the counter products. The fact is that making a diagnosis is a doctor’s job and by taking unnecessary medicines, we are risking our lives. With unnecessary use of antibiotics, people often develop resistance, as a result higher versions have to be used to bring the desired result. In some conditions, where not many medicines are available, being resistant to certain drugs can endanger our lives too. So next time you pop a pill, think twice.

Also, health apps and symptom trackers are indicators and not the final decision maker. If any medical condition or urgency is highlighted in a symptom tracker, it should be validated with correct diagnosis and a medical specialist’s consultation. Health trackers are meant to give a person a better insight into their health, enabling them to take preventive steps timely, rather when the health conditions go beyond the safe limits and complications arise. Hence, whenever you use a health app or symptom checker tools, do not begin to self-diagnose or self-medicate, rather seek expert advice at the earliest, if there is a problem.


Dangers of Self-Treatment

Some of the common problems people can face due to self-treatment include:

  • Delaying medical care/advice and increasing the risk of complications
  • Covering/masking an underlying condition, making diagnosis even more difficult
  • Incorrect medical diagnosis and unnecessary treatment
  • Use of incorrect medicines, increasing the risk of side effects
  • Inappropriate dosage of medicines causing health problems and risk of over dosage
  • Increased risk of allergic reactions and side effects due to intake of medicines, without knowing their interactions
  • Ineffectiveness of medicines due to over use or inappropriate use
  • Risk of health and safety, due to incorrect dosage of certain sleep inducing medicines or cough syrups.


Considering such risks of self-medication, it is important to adopt a responsible approach towards correct diagnosis of health problems and use of medicines. Proper medical advice is essential to managing health conditions.


Risks of Self-Treatment – Case Studies

Here are few case studies to make us aware of the fact that self-treatment can be more harmful than good.

Case 1

Here is a case of 30 year old lady, who was suffering from skin eruptions on the face. Considering the eruptions were acne, the lady took some medicines suggested by her friend. She also applied some cream popularly used to treat acne. Further, in the next few days, the facial eruptions worsened and so did her complaints. When things became unbearable, the lady saw a doctor, who referred her to a skin specialist.

On appropriate investigations, it was revealed that the skin eruptions were not acne in the first place. They were a result of oversensitive skin and an allergic reaction that mimicked acne. Further, appropriate treatment course was planned and the lady was counselled regarding the correct use of medicines.

Conclusion: With this, we can conclude that self-treatment can be dangerous and accurate diagnosis can be obtained only after thorough medical consultation and investigations. And only with proper diagnosis, the most appropriate treatment can be planned.


Case 2

This is a case of a 60 year old man who was under treatment for diabetes for the last 10 years. During a surgical procedure for gallstones, it was revealed that his blood sugar was persistently high, so he was given new medicines, which were more effective in controlling his blood sugar. The medicine had to be taken twice, so he had a feeling that the medicines are of very high power and can be dangerous for him. Also, he was experiencing hair loss, which he attributed to the newer medicines.

After he recovered from the surgical procedure, he assumed that things had normalised, including blood sugar levels. As he was already sceptical about the new diabetes medication and their dosage, he resumed his old diabetes medicines, without consulting the doctor. For many months to follow, he did not go for diabetes blood tests and continued the same old medicines. Further, he developed some eye symptoms and blurring of vision. On investigations, it was found that his blood sugar levels were very high and he showed early signs of diabetic retinopathy.

Conclusion: In this case, it is clear that the complication could be prevented by following the given prescription and not changing it without consultation. Also, with regular monitoring of blood sugar, the worsening of condition could be prevented. Hence, it is clear that if we are in doubt that a particular medicine does not suit us, we must talk to the doctor and not make changes on our own.


There is an urgent need to understand the importance of medical consultation, performing timely laboratory investigations and following medical prescription. Our health is in our hands. Let us choose to protect our health. Let us choose to be responsible.


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