GUEST COLUMNIST: Think twice before popping that medicine

Monday April 15 2019

Dr Chris Peterson

Dr Chris Peterson 

By Dr Chris Peterson

Suppose you wake up one morning feeling tired, with a headache and mild fever. Probably because of your busy schedules at work, you fail to report to the doctor for consultation and you decide to go for a self-prescription at a nearby pharmacy in an attempt to find relief. The medicines show some improvements on that particular day.

Unfortunately, the scenario seems to be the same when you wake up the next morning and you decide to go again to the same pharmacy to get your pain relievers.

It is true that this has been a habit of many of us but have we ever asked ourselves just how inappropriate it may be to use multiple over-the-counter drugs without being medically consulted? What if by doing that we worsen the disease instead of treating it? Or are we really aware, of such a thing called drug dependency?

One of the most common questions that people bombard me with in an effort to solve their medical concerns is; What medication should they take instead of explaining their problem, signs and symptoms.

I want to remind everyone that taking certain tablets cannot always be a wise decision for your health, especially if your medical condition is not an emergency.

Instead, take some time to understand what exactly your medical condition is, understand your body well, listen to symptoms, try at your knowledge to figure out what caused it, and before you take that tablet, seek medical advice from the hospital.

Suppose you thought of taking some tablets for your headache relief, while the doctor finds out, it only requires you to drink enough of water and have some time to rest?

John’s case

Few days ago, I came across John (not his real name), my patient. When he entered the consultation room, he complained about long history of general body fatigue, loss of appetite, lower back pain and fore headache on and off for almost two weeks that led to fevers.

According to John, he was convinced that it was malaria that was behind his nightmare especially when he found out even several rounds of painkillers were not of any help. “Please doctor, of all the medications you are going to prescribe for me, please don’t forget antimalarial and those for typhoid; I’m sure it might be malaria or typhoid that is bothering me” he insisted.

During our conversation, I came to learn that John had some emotional issues, after he revealed to me about some social challenges that he encountered about a month ago, leaving him depressed, and extremely stressed, and I was sure that was enough to cause his complaints.

But John didn’t pay attention to his psychological issues, he only paid attention to what appeared the side effects of his psychological issues.

Just to remind you my dear reader, if someone is stressed or emotionally unstable, he/she is much more likely to experience a number of complications like, loss of appetite, extreme fatigue, headache, especially fore headache, or even fever just like what John went through.

In this particular case, I was sure that, John, had neither malaria nor typhoid as he claimed. In fact he had no indication for those conditions, even though he kept insisting on treating them. I ordered stress test instead; a medical test that measures the heart’s ability to respond to external stress, to make sure that John’s stress hasn’t affected his heart, causing him any cardiac issue.

Finally, I offered him a psychotherapy and few tablets to control the symptoms of depression, and counselled him on how he can find emotional stability again and reassured him that he is going to be okay with the counselling.

Few days later, John turned up again and this time he was grateful that the counselling he was given was helpful to him since he was able to deal/ treat the psychological issues. John confessed that he was wrong to dwell in his self-diagnosis.

The author is a medical doctor based at Sanitas Hospital in Dar es Salaam.