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Medicines: What You Should Know

What are medicines?

Medicines are drugs or substances used to maintain health, and to treat or prevent illness. Generally, medicines are safe if taken properly.

What are the types of medicines available?

  • Prescription medicines (medicines that need to be prescribed by doctor)
  • Non-prescription medicines (medicines that can be obtained and used without a doctor’s prescription; e.g.: over-the-counter medicines such as vitamins and supplements)

Medicines come in what form?

Forms of medicines available:

  • Tablet
  • Capsule
  • Liquid (for internal use, eg: cough drops)
  • Liquid (for external use, eg: liniment or ‘massage oils’, shampoo)
  • Inhalations (eg: inhalers, menthol inhalation)
  • Injections
  • Eye drop / ointment
  • Nose drop / spray
  • Suppository / enema / pessary
  • Cream / lotion / ointment

How can I get medicine for my illness?

  • You need to see a doctor and get a prescription (for prescription medicine)
  • For self-medication, you can buy them from pharmacies or some grocery store / supermarket.

Where can I get my medicine?

  • From pharmacies in government hospitals / clinics (you must have a valid prescription)
  • From pharmacies in private hospitals / clinics (you must have a valid prescription)
  • From retail / private pharmacies (all types of medicines – you will still need a prescription for prescription medicines)
  • Grocery store / supermarket (for non-prescription medicines only)

How to use my medicines wisely?

  • You should know :
    • the name of the medicine (generic name)
    • how the medicine may help you
    • how much and how frequent you should take them
    • how long you should take the medicine
    • side effects that may occur while taking them
    • your medicine is only for you; do not share them with anyone else
    • how and where to keep your medicines
    • not to use or keep expired medicines or those that have deteriorated (eg: change in colour, smell, appearance)
  • If you are on self-medication, you should also know:
    • when you should see a doctor
  • If you are on medications prescribed by your doctor,
    • inform your doctor if you are pregnant / planning to get pregnant or breastfeeding
    • inform your doctor of any allergies towards any medicines
    • inform your doctor if you are fasting or on any special diets
    • inform your doctor if you are taking any other medication (including health supplements, OTC medicines or traditional medicines)
    • inform your doctor if you have any other medical problems.

How are generic names different from brand names?

  • Generic names are names of the actual active ingredient in the medicine. This will be found on the side of the package or in the information leaflet of your medicine.
  • Brand names are names that are used to market the medicines. This will normally appear in bold writing on the package, label and information leaflet.
  • The same active ingredient may appear in many brands of medicines. Take extra caution if you are taking more than one medicine, to avoid overdose of the active ingredient.

How can a pharmacist help me?

Doctors and pharmacists are your partners in using medications wisely and helping you to be at the best of health. While doctors diagnose and treat your illness, pharmacists guide you to understand your medicines better. They can also help to identify problems that may occur with your medication, such as:

  • side effects / adverse reactions of medicines
  • polypharmacy interactions
  • teach you special techniques of using your medicine (if necessary)

How should I keep my medicines?

  • Keep them away from children (preferably in a container / cabinet far from their reach)
  • Some medicines need to be kept in the refrigerator. Others can be kept in a cool, dry place in your house.
  • Do not store your medicines in the bathroom, near a sink, on window sills, or in the car as this can easily spoil them.
  • Keep your medicines in their original packing, to avoid mistakes when you need to take them.
Last reviewed : 23 April 2014
Writer : Che Pun bt. Bujang
Kamariah Shamsinar bt. Kamarul Baharin
Siti Nurul Fathihah bt. Baharudin
Reviewer : Norhayati bt. Musa