Self-medication in older urban Mexicans: An observational, descriptive, cross-sectional study

Fernando Ruiz Balbuena, Alfredo Briones Aranda, Albert Figueras

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    Background: Self-medication in older adults can be problematic, especially if remedies taken without prescription interact with prescribed medications or if they produce adverse effects. Before designing interventions to improve self-medication, it is important to characterize patterns of self-medicating in local populations. This can be easily achieved through the conduct of simple surveys. Objective: To quantify and describe the demographic, socioeconomic and pharmacological characteristics of self-medication among a geriatric urban population in Chiapas, Mexico. Methods: An observational, descriptive, cross-sectional study was conducted, using a conglomerate sampling technique. A total of 245 older (aged ≥65 years) residents in the downtown area of Tuxtla Gutierrez (Chiapas, Mexico) participated in the study. Information on self-medication and demographic and socioeconomic variables was obtained from a specific structured interview that was conducted by a single specially trained physician. Results: More than half of the 245 interviewed older adults (131 [53.5%; 95% CI 47.2, 59.7]) reported taking a medicine without prescription during the last 30 days. Self-medication was significantly more frequent among older adults who lived alone compared with married people (p = 0.0274) and among the illiterate or those with a low level of education compared with people with secondary and high-school degrees (p = 0.0036). NSAIDs (36.2% of medications) and antihistamines (12.6%) were the most frequent drugs taken as self-medication. The most frequently cited reasons for self-medicating were muscle and joint pain (19.9% of medications), upper respiratory tract problems (15.9%) and cough (7.3%). However, 13% of people who self-medicated took a remedy for hypertension (11% of all medications) without medical supervision. Previous prescriptions could have served as the basis for future self-medication in 33 (25.2%) patients. Finally, 35 (26.7%) patients who self-medicated reported that they had experienced adverse effects from the drug they were taking. Conclusion: Self-medication in older adults is a problem that should be carefully addressed in public health policies. Surveys such as the present one are easy to carry out (and could conveniently be conducted in primary care settings), rapidly yield information about the true nature of self-medication in local populations, and provide a basis on which to design future interventions. Factors associated with self-medication in this study, including both socioeconomic characteristics (e.g. most self-medicators were poorly educated or lived alone) and therapeutic considerations (e.g. substantial proportions of patients self-medicated for hypertension, used previous prescriptions as the basis for self-medication, or reported adverse effects of self-medication), are vital clues to the design of effective and appropriately targeted interventions in the future. © 2009 Adis Data Information BV. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)51-60
    JournalDrugs and Aging
    Publication statusPublished - 7 Jan 2009


    • Elderly
    • Non prescription drugs
    • Self medication


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