Medicine Myths

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Common misconceptions regarding drug uses.

A young colleague of mine was having a heated discussion with a customer. For some reason they don’t seem to understand each other. The customer- a man was buying a Paracetamol tablet for his wife. But he kept on talking about their four months old infant having a fever.

My colleague was already losing patience, she told our customer, “Sir, what do you really want to buy? You are saying your wife has no fever but why do you want to buy a tablet for her since it is the baby who is really sick?”

The man looking confident replied, “My wife’s mother says it’s dangerous for a baby that young to take the medicine. It’s safer that he gets it from my wife’s milk.”

Some people choose to live in the past. Here are some medical misconceptions ranging from simple false beliefs to some really disturbing cases.

  • Different brands with the same generic name is not the same

A drug having the same generic name and strength is similar. They have the same active constituent and with this they have the similar action and side effects.

What do Tempra and Biogesic have in common? They both have Paracetamol as their generic name. So if Tempra can’t relieve your headache, does this mean Biogesic can? You’ll probably shift to a stronger pain reliever like Mefenamic acid or other Non- steroidal anti-inflammatory agents. Sadly some people upon self medication look upon advertisements. When they find a drug not working for them, they simply refrain taking it then try another one. Ironically, some of them rely on the brand or trade name and not on the generic name. They end up taking the same thing only with the different brand.

  • Cold and cough medicine can make you sleepy

The usual active constituent of a cold and cough medicine is Phenylpropanolamine which is indicated for cold; Guiafenesin or Dextromethorpan, intended for cough; and the antihistamines chlorpenamine or Brompheniramine.

The latter mentioned are anti allergies. These are the main culprit for making one drowsy or sleepy. A patient who doesn’t want to drowse off buy cold and cough formulation without the antihistamines.

  • Drugs are best taken after meals

Most doctors advise patients to take their medication after meals to make sure that they don’t develop stomach upsets. However, some drugs like antacid are best given on empty stomach for them to work better. In addition without food to hinder the absorption of drug in the body, the effect of medicine is faster.

  • Taking two or more drugs with the same strength at the same time can be very harmful

Physician prescribes medicine depending upon the patients needs. Of course if a person has various complaints he would be given different drugs for his different ailments. However even today, some people have false beliefs that taking two or three drugs at the same time can be hazardous. The funny thing about it is they usually give emphasis on the strength of the medicine although these do not fall on the same category.

Citing a bad combination is Salbutamol 4mg and Terbulatine 2.5mg. Both may have a low dose yet they belong to the anti-asthma group. With this combination, palpitation is a great danger.

  • Expired medicines are not effective anymore

Expired medicine has an allotment of 3 months before being announced as really expired. Yet, pioneer companies such as Pfizer and Parke Davies with the most high class standard of quality can retain their drugs’ efficacy for years after their expiration date.

A warning though: antibiotics such as Tetracycline are an exemption.

  • An under dosed drug can relieve pain

The dose of a medicine is calculated based on age, weight and the severity of disease. By the book, an under dosed drug cannot cure an ailment.

  • Infants can be cured by taking medicine through the mother’s milk

One way to eliminate the remains of the drug is through the mother’s milk. However a medicine undergoes changes as it is distributed throughout the body. While some byproduct becomes altered that can be harmful for the baby, some drug can retain their original effect but very little. Focusing with a Paracetamol working on an infant through a mother’s milk, a baby can only receive less than 2% of the maternal dose. Not quite enough for the infant to be relived of its fever.

The Placebo Effect Phenomenon

People may claim that a Paracetamol Tylenol works best with them unlike other Paracetamol brands. Some gets sleepy upon taking a non-drowse cough and cold formulation. I have encountered patients who complained stomach upsets upon taking a non-expired medicine and got well with a really expired drug.

An elderly colleague of mine- two of them actually admitted that back then, they usually let their kids take medicine from their breast and it worked. I myself took an under dosed-pain tablet once, had my faith on it, slept and found myself relieved an hour later.

The bottom line is this: Its all in the mind. A medicine myth becomes a fact depending on the believer. The placebo effect is very much real. A drug works on a person on how he wants it to be.

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Kimberley Heit
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