Why You Need To Know Your Medicine’s Brand and Generic Names


All medicines have one generic name, and perhaps one or more brand names. For example, Advil and Motrin are brand names for the generic medicine ibuprofen. When you are taking medicine, it is important to know both the generic and the brand names. This information will prevent you from taking too much of the same medicine, which can lead to an overdose.

Sometimes, the brand names are prescribed for entirely different reasons. For example, one medicine is called Prozac when it's used to treat depression and Sarafem when it's used to reduce pre-menstrual symptoms. In this case, the drug company felt some women may be uncomfortable taking a medicine called Prozac if it wasn't being used to treat depression. But Prozac and Sarafem are the same medicine. Its generic name is fluoxetine, which will always be the same no matter what condition the medicine is being used to treat. So a woman taking Prozac for depression should not assume that it's safe to take Sarafem for pre-menstrual symptoms, too.

Sometimes, having different names for the same medicine has caused mistakes. One middle-aged man accidentally took too much of one ingredient that it sent him to the hospital with a seizure. The ingredient was called bupropion. This medicine has one brand name (Wellbutrin) when it's used for depression and another (Zyban when it's used to help people quit smoking. The man had been taking Wellbutrin for years to treat depression. Six weeks before the seizure, his doctor gave him a new set of prescriptions for all his medicines. This time, the doctor prescribed the depression medicine by its generic name, bupropion. Not knowing they were the same medicine, the man mistakenly took both his new prescription for bupropion and his old prescription for Wellbutrin. To make matters worse, the man had recently attended a "stop smoking" program, where another doctor gave him a prescription for Zyban. So right before his seizure, the man was taking Zyban, Wellbutrin, and bupropion — all the same medicine! Luckily, a medical student in the hospital discovered the problem when he looked up the generic names of all the medicines the man was taking. After a day in the hospital, the man was able to go home.

The best way to prevent these errors is to know your medicine's brand and generic names. Remember, the generic name will always be the same, even if your medicine has several different brand names. Keep a record of all the medicines you take. On a form, list the names of your medicine, why you take them, how much you take, and how often you take them. Give that form to your doctors every time you visit them. Also, while you may need to visit several different doctors, always try to fill your prescriptions at the same pharmacy. This way, your pharmacist will be able to tell if one of your doctors prescribed a medicine you're already taking.

Created on July 20, 2011

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