|Year : 2022 | Volume
| Issue : 3 | Page : 624-631
Self-care behaviors and safety concerns toward self-medication among the general public in Ajman, United Arab Emirates: An exploratory survey
Manal Buabeid1, Subish Palaian2, Akram Ashames3, Nageeb Hassan2
1 Departments of Clinical Sciences, Fathima College of Health Sciences, Institute of Applied Technology, Abu Dhabi, UAE
2 Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Ajman University, Ajman, UAE
3 Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Ajman University, Ajman, UAE
|Date of Submission||31-Oct-2021|
|Date of Decision||11-Sep-2022|
|Date of Acceptance||19-Sep-2022|
|Date of Web Publication||2-Nov-2022|
Dr. Subish Palaian
Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Ajman University, Ajman
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
Background: Self-medication offers advantages but raises multiple safety-related questions. There are different factors that influence the self-medication patterns among different population, such as age, income, gender, self-care-orientation, educational level, expenditure, satisfaction, and known seriousness of the illness. Data on self-care behavior and safety concerns among the general public are lacking in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This study assessed the general public's self-care behaviors and medication safety concerns among the general public. Materials and Methods: A cross-sectional, questionnaire-based survey was conducted among the 210 general public in Ajman, UAE, from December 2019 to February 2020. The filled surveys, entered in SPSS 26, were analyzed applying Chi-square tests and Fisher's exact tests with an alpha value = 0.05. Results: Of the respondents, 152 (72.3%) have participated in self-medication with no association seen between education (P = 0.107), gender (P = 0.185), age (P = 0.122). The commonly self-medicated ones were over-the-counter medications (n = 103; 41.37%) and antibiotics (n = 66; 26.51%). Seventy-two percentage (n = 151) stopped the self-medicated drugs if the underlying conditions improved which was not influenced by age (P = 0.327), gender (P = 1.00), or educational qualifications (P = 0.338). Sixty percentage (n = 126) checked the side effects of the self-medicated drugs before taking them, a habit influenced by education (P = 0.015), gender (0.002), and age group (P = 0.014). Half of the respondents (n = 105; 50%) stopped medications if they experience side effects a practice largely influenced by age (P = 0.0.30). Of the respondents 77.6% (n = 163) checked the medicine leaflets for drug information and the ease of obtaining an antibiotic was easy among 19.62% (n = 20) respondents; P = 000 (education), 0.006 (age); 65.7% (n = 138) of respondents check for allergy before self-medicating (P = 0.014, education), 13.3% (n = 28) felt the drugs that do not require a prescription is safe for everyone (P = 0.012, education). Conclusion: Self-medication is rampant and often used for symptomatic management. Antibiotics were also self-medicated by nearly one-fourth of respondents. Education had a significant influence on self-medication practices and safety concerns. Innovative strategies may be needed to contain irresponsible self-medication practices among the general public.
Keywords: Ajman, self-care, self-medication, United Arab Emirates
|How to cite this article:|
Buabeid M, Palaian S, Ashames A, Hassan N. Self-care behaviors and safety concerns toward self-medication among the general public in Ajman, United Arab Emirates: An exploratory survey. J Datta Meghe Inst Med Sci Univ 2022;17:624-31
|How to cite this URL:|
Buabeid M, Palaian S, Ashames A, Hassan N. Self-care behaviors and safety concerns toward self-medication among the general public in Ajman, United Arab Emirates: An exploratory survey. J Datta Meghe Inst Med Sci Univ [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Feb 1];17:624-31. Available from: http://www.journaldmims.com/text.asp?2022/17/3/624/360218
| Introduction|| |
Self-medication is the act of taking one or more medicines without the proper consultation of any health-care provider, either a physician or a pharmacist. It involves self-diagnosis for medical problems based on specific characteristic symptoms that end with the self-prescription of one or more medicines. Increased public awareness and access to medical knowledge through different health-related websites and social media platforms have made people more comfortable and confident with self-medication. Consequently, drug research has developed extensively to formulate safer and more tolerable drugs, and pharmaceutical companies have started been working on making their products to be available and easily accessed by patients. In most cases, self-medication is practiced with over-the-counter (OTC) medication, which can be acquired without any prescription, and is considered cost and time-saving. In some cases, a few OTC medications are even purchased from grocery shops making it even easier for consumers to avail them. Self-medication should not be prevented but require more restrictions to the general simple common problems where every individual is susceptible during their lives and minimizing the dependence of conditions those are often self-limiting and requires symptomatic management.
Undoubtedly studies all over the world,, the middle east, and specifically in the Gulf Cooperation Council region,,, show an increasing trend of self-medication. In United Arab Emirates (UAE), few studies are conducted in relation to self-medications and among these ones, two were on high school students,, five were on health professional students.,,,, One study published in 2018 assessed general public perspectives of self-medication in one of the seven emirates in the UAE. This study, the only one conducted in the past in UAE among the general public's self-medication practices, was narrowed down only to self-medication practices, and many aspects such as self-care behavior, detailed safety concern on self-medicated drugs, etc., are not assessed. Moreover, during recent time, between 2015 and 2020, many interventions were carried out to create awareness and restrict antibiotic dispensing by community pharmacists without a valid prescription, and the impact of which needs investigation. Further, smartphone penetration among the general public can also have a huge impact on self-medication practices as most health information is now available in the hand tips with a simple search process, and the impact of which remains to be studied. Periodic investigations of drug use can certainly provide useful information on medicine use patterns and offer strategies for improvements.
This study assessed the Ajman general public's self-medication practices, reasons for self-medication, safety concerns on self-chosen drugs, and other associated factors related to self-medication.
| Materials and Methods|| |
A cross-sectional questionnaire-based study investigating the general public' knowledge of self-medication practices and the safety concerns about self-medicated medicines.
This research was approved by the Research Ethical Committee of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Ajman University, Ajman, UAE, with permission number PHA-UH-20-04-5. The research followed the Declaration of Helsinki-Ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects. In addition, all the accepted ethical principles laid down by the approving ethical committee were strictly followed. The researchers and the students facilitating the data collection took a self-pledge on maintaining strict confidentiality that no information will be shared with anyone. Informed consent was obtained from the respondents before responding to the survey. The beginning of the survey had a Consent statement to be checked by each of the respondents before starting the online survey. It was clearly mentioned that by proceeding to the survey, the respondents provided their willingness and consent to participate in the survey. For respondents aged <18 years, the Google link of the questionnaire was routed through the parents after obtaining their consent.
The data collection of the study was performed from December 2019 until the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in February 2020.
This study involves the public of Ajman (one among the seven emirates in the UAE) with different socioeconomic backgrounds. Before the collection of data, each participant was clearly informed about the purpose of the study. Adults with an age range of 16–65 years, irrespective of gender, were enrolled in the study.
Sample size calculation
The sample size was calculated using the Raosoft sample size calculator, which yielded a representative sample of 384. The sample size was calculated with a margin of error 5%, the confidence level of 95%, and assumed response distribution of 50%. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the data collection was not completed, and a total of 210 responses were only obtained. Thus, the response rate was 54%.
The questionnaire was obtained from a previous researcher, and modifications were performed to match with the study objectives. The changes include complete rephrasing to suit the general population, questions which have been added to cover pregnant and children, more questions that are covered antibiotics in the term of usage and difficulty to obtain without a valid prescription, ability to add any comment, to improve. The final version of the study questionnaire is attached as Supplementary File 1.
Validation of study questionnaire
The researchers performed the content validity, and the face validity was done by sending it for ten people who were not related to the research, then based on their feedback, the questionnaire was changed. The Cronbach alpha of the final version of the questionnaire was 0.700 which was acceptable. The questionnaire contains two sections:
The first part is about sociodemographic characteristics, including age, gender, marital status, education, and occupation. The second part 30 questions on self-medication that includes information such as students are asked about whether they have ever practiced self-medication either through prescription or through OTC drugs and includes questions about the source of medication used, source of information about such medication, and reasons for self-medication.
Method of data collection
The study was conducted among the Ajman community with different socioeconomic backgrounds. Before the collection of data, the participant was clearly informed about the purpose of the study. The Google link of the questionnaire was forwarded to their known people living in Ajman.
The filled questionnaires were downloaded from the Google survey to a Google sheet, then were converted to a Microsoft Excel sheet, then exported to IBM SPSS (SPSS Inc, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A) program version 26 for more analysis. Descriptive analysis was performed for the demographic variables.
For the specific questions, the responses were coded and descriptively analyzed. Association between categorical values was established using the Chi-square test with a P < 0.05 was considered statistically significant. Fisher's exact test was followed when the expected frequency was <5.
| Results|| |
Of the 210 respondents, 67 (32%) were male, and the rest were 143 (68%) female. Twenty (9.52%) of the study respondents were under 18 years. Of the respondents 155 (73.81%) were 18–25 years. 9 (4.29%) were aged 26–33 years and 11 (5.24%) were 34–41 years. Of age, 9 (4.29%) aged 42%–42%, and rest 6 (2.86%) aged above 49 years. Of the respondents, 35 (16.67%) had completed high school, 159 (75.71%) were currently studying “undergraduates” and 16 (7.62%) were “postgraduates.” The occupation of the respondents was related to the medical field (112; 53.3%), nonmedical field (52; 24.7%), and the rest 46 (21.9%) were unemployed.
Participation in self-medication and safety concerns
Of the study respondents, 152 (72.3%) had ever participated in self-medication and the rest 58 (27.5%) had never done so. Participation in self-medication was not associated with education (P = 0.107), gender (P = 0.185), age (P = 0.122). The 152 respondents who self-medicated in the past used a total of 249 medications and the details of the medicines self-medicated by them are in [Figure 1].
Of the respondents, 151 (72%) had the habit of stopping the self-medicated drugs if the underlying conditions improved and they felt better, and the rest continued, 59 (18%) taking the medications for the recommended course. This habit of stopping medications on feeling better was not influenced by age (P = 0.327), gender (P = 1.00), or educational qualifications (P = 0.338).
Among the respondents, 126 (60%) responded, saying they checked the side effects of the self-medicated drugs before taking them. Among the remaining, 32 (15%) do not check side effects and the remaining 52 (25%) checked sometimes and not always. This aspect of self-medication was significantly associated with education (P = 0.015), gender (0.002), and age group (P = 0.014).
While asked about whether they stop medications if they experience a side effect, 105 (50%) responded “yes” and 24 (11.4%) said “no” and the remaining 81 (38.6%) said, “according to the situation.” This practice was largely influenced by respondents' age (P = 0.0.30).
Respondents' ways of requesting medications from the community pharmacies
While self-medicating, the respondents followed different approaches for getting the medications from community pharmacies. Some of them followed even more than one approach, thus making a total of 300 responses. The most common approach was mentioning the name of the drug, followed by 118 (39.33%) respondents, telling the symptoms of the illness to the pharmacist (n = 98; 32.67%), visiting the approaching the pharmacy with the name written on a piece of paper (52; 17.33%), taking the old container/pack with to the pharmacy (32; 10.67%).
Reason for nondoctor visits and preference to visit community pharmacies
The various reasons for the respondents not visiting a Physician and taking medications from community pharmacies were studied. Few respondents had more than one reason making the total responses 293. The most common reason being the respondents felt “No need to visit the doctor for minor illness”, n = 118; 40.27%, followed by time-saving, n = 70; 23.89%, perceived self-confidence in own knowledge about medications, n = 61; 20.82%, and economical/convenient, n = 44; 15.02%.
Self-medication practices of the respondents
This section of the results enumerates the study respondents' responses to few questions related to their management of medical conditions requiring physician visits and their self-medication practices [Table 1].
|Table 1: Respondents' nondoctor reliance for medical illnesses and self-medication practices|
Click here to view
Factors influencing the choice of self-medicated drugs and their brands
As reported by the respondents (n = 287), the common factor affecting the choice of choosing a particular self-medicated drug was “price” and “company,” each reported by 99 (34.49%), followed by brand (n = 5, 26.23%) and others (n = 14; 4.88%). On selecting a drug, the further choice of a particular brand (n = 323) depends on recommendation by the pharmacist (n = 98; 30.34%), previous experience (n = 83; 25.70%), the brand was used by friends and family (n = 65; 20.12%), old prescription by a doctor (n = 64, 19.81%), advertisements (n = 13; 4.02%).
Safety concerns and associated practices during self-medication practices
[Table 2] depicts the respondents' responses on their safety precautions and concerns while self-medicating.
| Discussion|| |
Undoubtedly, self-medication offers advantages with noteworthy health risks. The benefits and harmful effects of self-medication are well reported in the literature., There are initiatives worldwide to restrict self-medication, and at the same time, voices to promote responsible self-medication is on the rise. There is a narrow line that divides the benefits associated with self-medication from harm, the core concern being the proper diagnosis of a condition either by pharmacist/self or needing physician consultation. Assessment of studies reporting self-medication practices generally reveals a high prevalence and the outcomes of which are not well understood. However, it provides useful information on general public practices and perceptions, which can largely contribute in multiple ways to institute interventions. The prevalence of self-medication varies across countries and are reported as in range to over 50% and 81% in neighboring Saudi Arabia. As in the present study, being 72.3%, a high prevalence further emphasizes the need for quantitative researches targeting pharmacovigilance of self-medication and qualitative researches emphasizing the social and behavioral aspects influencing self-care, a phenomenon not well documented.
It is important to know the types of medications self-medicated and categorize them as prescription versus OTC. With OTC medications, self-medication is recommended under pharmacist supervision through there can be multiple possibilities for improper OTC drug use such as overdose, improper storage, etc. The World Health Organization recommends responsible self-medication for conditions that do not need medical consultation or oversight as it offers less pressure on medical services. In the present research, as reported by the respondents, the most common therapeutic groups consumed were OTC medications, herbal medicines, multivitamins, and antibiotics. Herbal drugs though considered by the public as safe, are not always safe.
There are reports suggesting prescription medications beings self-medicated as in the present study antibiotics, accounting for over a quarter. Two previous studies from UAE,, and other studies from Saudi Arabia and the neighboring countries reported self-medication practices with antibiotics. Although the current data were obtained from consumers on a self-reported basis, it still gains significance as it is in accordance with other similar studies in the region. As recommended by previous studies, there is a need for consumer awareness programs to combat self-medication with antibiotics. Further, innovative strategies using digital platforms and social media could be tried.
It was noted that 72% of the respondents had a habit of discontinuing medications after symptom control. This can lead to therapy failure, withdrawal symptoms and also lead to a rise in leftover medicines in the home, which can eventually cause further inappropriate medicine use by self and family members. Although no clear segregation could be made here on whether discontinued medications were for symptoms control or the ones requiring course completion, it is important to understand the behavioral aspects of medicine intake by consumers. The reasons for people discontinuing their medications may vary and are related to side effects, efficacy issues, etc. In-depth investigations on reasons for discontinuing therapy can provide useful insights on further strategies to overcome this problem.
Safety concerns among consumers on their own medicines are crucial. It is well known that self-medication is a major cause for adverse drug reactions with both OTC and prescription medications. In the present study, only 60% had a habit of checking the side effects of self-medicated drugs. Multiple options exist today for knowing one's own medicine's safety profile, such as simple Internet search, online product information websites, package inserts of medicines, etc. However, one should be aware of the presence of unauthentic information available in the internet and should be able to critically assess the internet source of drug information. The education level of consumers in this study had a positive influence on multiple aspects such as using self-medication for chronic diseases, ability to understand information from package insert, not taking a drug for the first time without health professional consultation, checking for allergy, checking for potential drug-drug interactions while taking more than one drug simultaneously, etc. These findings agree with other similar studies, and contradict another similar study from UAE wherein education had no significant impact on self-medication practices. Half of the study respondents opined on stopping the suspected medication in case of occurrence of any side effects, a factor further influenced by the respondents' age.
The general public's presentation to a health-care provider is an important aspect of self-care. The common approach adopted by the study respondents while asking for medicines from a community pharmacy in UAE is mentioning the name of the drug, telling the symptoms of the illness to the pharmacist, approaching the pharmacy with the name written on a piece of paper, and bringing the old container/pack with to the pharmacy. These findings show a high possibility for the occurrence of medication errors. An accurate provision of history can be valuable in making the right diagnosis by the community pharmacists, a fundamental aspect that can go wrong easily. At this juncture, one must not forget the competency levels of community pharmacists are symptom assessment, history taking, and arriving at a suitable diagnosis. Studies from UAE reported a poor practice among community pharmacists in dispensing, counseling, and drug therapy-related problems identification and mitigation. This provides scope for enhancing Community pharmacists' practice skills, a large area still needing up-gradation in the UAE.
Having understood the reasons for self-medication, it is important to know the factors leading to buying medicines from pharmacies without visiting the physician. The general public under this study had a perception that their conditions being minor ones, did not require a physician consultation, time-saving, self-confidence in medical knowledge, and cost/convenience. These findings, similar to other study findings,, provide insight into possible strategies to combat self-medication.
The present research shows respondents even self-medicated prescription medications for chronic conditions, which is a worrying fact [Table 1]. As it is understood, prescription medicines require the direct involvement of physicians in choosing the drug, keeping in mind the patient's conditions. Prescription medicines, as reported by consumers, were reportedly available without a valid prescription. At times even consumers advised the medicines taken by them to their family members, a practice reported even in other countries. All these require more consumer awareness of the harmful effects of self-medication. However, it is worth to be noted that often respondents referred to the leaflets of the self-medicated drugs, a positive outcome.
In the current research, the “price” and the “manufacturer” were the factors influencing the consumers' choice of a particular drug. Respondents also considered a particular “brand” as a factor responsible for choosing a particular medicine, and the choice of brand was influenced by the pharmacist, previous experience, and use by a family member. The present study also assessed the general public's safety concerns associated with their medications [Table 2]. They were generally aware that medicines have to be used with caution in children, and pregnant women differently than in the adult population. The present study finding disagrees with the previous study in UAE, in which 64.1% of respondents considered self-medication to be safe. A closer look on the present study finding shows respondents' “education” to strongly influence their perception toward the safety of self-medication.
The study had a few limitations. Of the 377 calculated samples, only 210 were collected, and the data collection was terminated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the sample size is low in terms of percentage achievement, still the number (n = 210) is considered good and hence, the study findings remain worth reporting. Future researches with a large sample size are warranted. Since this research is a questionnaire-based survey, one cannot ignore the possible Dunning-Kruger effect.
| Conclusions|| |
Self-medication was highly prevalent, with three fourth of the study respondents practicing it with no differences in demographic aspects. Often, prescription drugs such as antibiotics were easily available and self-medicated. The major reason for self-medication was the perception that “minor illnesses don't need physician visits.” Although highly prevalent, the general public was knowledgeable and aware of the safety aspects of self-medicated drugs and gathered information on side effects and expiry dates of medicines they consumed. Self-medication practices were largely influenced by the educational status of the study respondents. Social media can play an important role in raising awareness among the general public on self-medication.
The abstract of this paper was presented at the Dubai International Pharmaceutical and Technology Conference and Exhibition (DUPHAT) conference, February 25–27, 2020, as a poster presentation with interim findings. The poster's abstract was published in “Poster Abstracts” in the conference abstract book. In addition, the summary findings of the research were presented at “3rd Ajman University students' research day” competition held on June 7, 2020, and was nominated as one among the three best research projects at the Pharmacy College level.
The authors acknowledge Dr. Saira Azhar, College of Pharmacy, University of Sargodha, Pakistan, for permitting us to use the questionnaire. The authors would also like to acknowledge Mr. Yassien Atteal Mohammed and Ms. Rania Mamoun Awwad, final year BSc Pharm students from Ajman University for collecting the data for the research. A special thanks to all the respondents who spent their valuable time in filling the survey.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
| Supplementary File|| |
Supplementary File 1: Survey on self-care behaviors and safety concerns towards self-medication amongst the general public in Ajman, United Arab Emirates
- Sex: *
- Under 18
- High school diploma
- Bachelor's degree
- Master's degree
- Medical field
- None medical field
Have you ever participated in self-medication? *
If YES, what was the type of medication?
- OTC drug
- Herbal medications and multivitamins
Do you stop taking the medication if you felt any side effects?*
- Maybe according to the situation
Do you check if the drug has any possible side effects before taking it?*
Do you stop taking the medication if you felt better? *
What is your way of requesting medications from the pharmacy or drug store?*
- Mentioning the name of the drug
- Telling the symptoms of your illness to the pharmacist
- A piece of paper with the name of the drug
- Taking the old drug container with you
Why do you prefer self-medication instead of visiting a health professional (doctor/pharmacist)?*
- Time saving
- You have confidence in your knowledge about medications
- No need to visit the doctor for minor illnesses
Have you ever taken self-medication for chronic disease? (a chronic disease is a disease that lasts for more than 3 months)*
Do you check the prescribing information (leaflet) before self-medication? *
If yes how much do you understand the instructions of the leaflet?
- I fully understand
- I don't understand at all
When was your last medical visit?*
- Last month
- Last 6 months
- Last year
- More than a year
Is it possible for you to get prescription medications (e × . Antibiotics) without a prescription? *
- Very easy
- Sometimes its easy
- No, its hard
- Maybe I don't know
do you check the expiry date on your medication before and after purchasing? *
- Yes, I check both times
- No, I never check
- Only before
- Only after
Do you advise drugs that you already took to you family members or friends? *
What factor mostly affect your choice when you are buying a drug? *
- Other, please specify ………………………….
Your selection of a particular brand depends on which of those factors? *
- Recommendation by the pharmacist
- Old prescription by a doctor
- The brand was used by your friends and family
- Previous experience
- Other, please specify ……………………………
When you take 2 or more drugs together do you check if there are any interactions between them? *
Do you know the availability of drugs that shouldn't be given to children? *
Do you check the safety of the dose before giving it to children? *
- I have never given a drug to a child before
Do you know the availability of drugs that shouldn't be given to pregnant/nursing women? *
If you are going to take a drug that you have NEVER taken before do you consult a doctor or a pharmacist? *
- Yes, I consult both
- No, I don't
- Only my doctor
- Only the pharmacist
Do you think its safe to use several drugs at the same time? *
Have you ever missed one of your doses? *
Do you think minor health problems don't need treatments using medications? *
What are the factors that prevents you from taking a drug without the doctor's prescription? *
- Saves time
- High fees of doctors
- Advice from the pharmacists
- Other, please specify ………………………….
Do you keep the leftover antibiotics to use it in the future? *
Do you believe in taking a second drug to remove the side effects of the first drug? *
Do you believe just because a drug doesn't need a prescription that its safe for everyone? *
- Yes, it's safe
- No, it's not safe
Do you check if you have any allergy to a drug before taking it? *
Do you think some drugs will cause problems or side effects to people who have chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, peptic ulcer?
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[Table 1], [Table 2]