Self-medicating? Here’s When You Need To Consult Your Doctor

  • 5 minutes, 16 seconds
  • Health Conditions
  • Digestive & Liver Health
  • Dr. Jatin Bhide

Do you feel anxious before entering a doctor’s clinic? Do those sharp needles piercing through your veins remind you of a horror film? Well, if you are nodding already, then you most probably like to self-medicate to avoid going to the doctor or a hospital. Taking an antacid or a laxative every once in a while when you are having troubles is probably nothing new to you. If you are still nodding, there are some potential dangers you need to know about self-medication for digestive problems like diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, etc, or even self-medicating to deal with stress.

Why do we self-medicate?

Nowadays we wish to take greater control of our own health. We often rely on search engines to perform a diagnosis of our ailments rather than going to a doctor. There could be a number of reasons for you to self-medicate. Here are a few:

  • Urge of self-care
  • Lack of time
  • Lack of health services
  • Financial constraint
  • Ignorance and misbelieves
  • Accessibility of some OTC medications
  • Extensive advertisement of some home remedies or OTC products

Have you ever wondered how to treat diarrhea at home? Or how do I stop diarrhea? There are a few areas where common people like you and me tend to self-medicate very often – indigestion, cough, and cold, fever, pain, minor cut, or infection. Although mild indigestion is treatable at home, you must know the threshold, beyond that you must seek professional help.

Sometimes there might not be a big issue, however frequently self – medicating may also bring along long-term side effects of drugs. Many people also tend to self-medicate with prescription drugs (if freely available at chemist). For example, many retrospective studies suggest long-term use of PPI may lead to CKD. It is always necessary to be cautious about these facts while taking OTC medicines.

Common digestive problems that people usually rely on OTC products or home remedies include:

  • Gas & bloating
  • Heartburn/GERD
  • Indigestion
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting

What are some common OTC products for these digestive problems?

Laxatives: Laxatives can be used in cases of acute constipation by helping in increasing stool motility, bulk, and frequency. They can provide temporary relief from constipation, however, their misuse can aggravate your problem.

Diarrhea: If your symptoms are not severe and you have acute diarrhea, you can opt for probiotic medications that will heal and boost gut health.

Indigestion: Treatment for indigestion depends on the cause and may include medications such as antacids (eg. Aluminium hydroxide), H2 blockers (eg. famotidine), or proton pump inhibitors (eg. pantoprazole)

Gas and bloating: Medications like simethicone can relieve the uncomfortable bloating and pain from gas.

When should you go to a doctor?

Sometimes, there may not be a big issue, however frequen self-medication may also bring along long-term side effects of drugs. Many people also tend to self-medicate with prescription drugs (if freely available at chemist). Ex. Many retrospective studies suggest long-term use of PPI may lead to serious problems like CKD. Understanding the symptoms of your disease and seeing a physician is important.

Now, let’s understand at which stage of your digestive discomfort, you should stop self-medicating and consult your doctor.

Abnormal Bowel Movement

Constipation – Most of the time constipation may be due to issues like lack of fiber in your diet or some abrupt changes in your diet or routine. Taking a mild laxative or increasing your fiber intake can probably solve your problem. If constipation lasts for more than 3 weeks, you might be suffering from chronic constipation and you should see a doctor. If you pass fewer than three bowel movements per week, your constipation may be due to blockage, neurological issues, muscular or hormonal malfunction, diet, or other factors. You must not self-medicate anymore and should consult with your doctor.

Diarrhea – Diarrhea is often your body’s way of dealing with disruptions in your gastrointestinal system. The cause behind diarrhea could be a virus, parasite/bacteria, food poisoning, antibiotic consumption, etc. Loperamide is often used to relieve the symptoms of diarrhea, but it does not resolve the root cause. Taking some probiotics can also help boost good gut bacteria. If runny stool continues for more than two weeks, you may have chronic diarrhea. This may be even a sign of Crohn’s disease or IBS. Therefore, professional help is needed in this situation.

Dysphagia

If you experience frequent pain in the upper stomach area or difficulty swallowing, or this difficulty in swallowing intensifies over time, you should consult a gastroenterologist to determine the cause of your discomfort and begin administering treatment.

Abdominal Pain and Bloating

Occasional, mild abdominal pain and bloating is not major concern in our daily life. For gas pain, medicine that has the ingredient simethicone can help you. However, if abdominal pain or bloating takes place after nearly every meal you eat or is accompanied by nausea, fever, or painful bowel movements it’s time for you to visit your doctor immediately. Vomiting, fever, and pain in the lower abdomen could be a sign of appendicitis.

Frequent Heartburn

Occasional heartburn maybe after a hefty meal at a late-night party is mostly nothing to be concerned with. You can take an antacid or acid reducer. But if the heartburn is occurring frequently that may be an indication of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), Barrett’s Esophagus, and possibly, even worst-case scenario esophageal cancer. You must not self-medicate anymore and visit a doctor immediately.

Rectal Bleeding

Blood in the stools or black stools generally means there is an injury somewhere in your digestive tract. This may be caused by an anal fissure (a small cut or tear in the tissue lining the anus), hemorrhoids, internal bleeding, or it could be something requiring medical attention, such as cancer. If you see large amounts of bright red blood, clots in the toilet bowl, or nonstop bleeding or experience shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, or extreme weakness with bleeding, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.

To summarise, for any digestive difficulties you must be cautious about your symptoms and understand by which stage you should continue self-medication. Work on boosting your immunity by natural means and Consult your doctor if any health issue is bothering you. Have a safe and healthy life!

References –

Bennadi D, et al. Self-medication: A current challenge. Journal of basic and clinical pharmacy. 2013 Dec;5(1):19.

Ruiz M, et al. Risks of self-medication practices. Current drug safety. 2010 Oct 1;5(4):315-23.

Wingate D, et al. Guidelines for adults on self‐medication for the treatment of acute diarrhoea. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics. 2001 Jun 12;15(6):773-82.

Digestive Health Tips. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/digestive-health-tips Accessed on: Aug 21, 2021

6 Signs You Need to See a Gastroenterologist. Available from: https://www.ligastrohealth.com/blog/6-signs-you-need-to-see-a-gastroenterologist Accessed on: Aug 21, 2021

Upset Stomach: 7 Natural Remedies Available at https://www.healthline.com/health/digestive-health/natural-upset-stomach-remedies Accessed on 24 August 2021

Medicines & Remedies To Get Rid of Stomach Aches and Pains Available at https://www.webmd.com/first-aid/abdominal-pain-in-adults-treatment Accessed on 24 August 2021

Laxatives for Constipation: Treatments, Use, Safety Available at https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/laxatives-for-constipation-using-them-safely Accessed on 3 September 2021

5 Effective Diarrhea Remedies Available at https://www.healthline.com/health/digestive-health/most-effective-diarrhea-remedies#otc-medications Accessed on 3 September 2021

Treatment for Diarrhea Available at https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/diarrhea/treatment Accessed on 24 August 2021

Acid reflux medicine: Types and when to seek help Available at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/acid-reflux-medicine Accessed on 24 August 2021