What do medicines do?
- Cure illnesses
There are only a few curative medicines. Antibiotics are a good example of these kinds of medicines. They can be used to entirely cure an illness caused by a bacterial infection. Curative medicines have been developed even for serious illnesses, such as cancer.
- Alleviate the symptoms
The majority of medicines alleviate illnesses and their symptoms. Asthma, for instance, cannot be cured, but the illness can be managed with effective medication. Painkillers are also a typical example of medicine that alleviates symptoms.
Some medicines compensate for the partial or full incapacity of the body to produce vital substances, such as insulin in the case of diabetes, and thyroid hormones in the case of hypothyroidism.
- Prevent illnesses
Vaccines and vitamins are examples of medicines that prevent illnesses. The spread of several infectious diseases can be prevented by vaccines, and the sufficient intake of vitamin D, for example, prevents osteoporosis.
Are medicines safe?
Only medicines the quality, efficacy, and safety of which have been tested are sold in Finland. Effective medical treatment can, however, always also have adverse effects.
Marketing authorisations for medicines are granted by the Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea. In order to prove the efficacy and safety of a medicine, the pharmaceutical company has usually conducted years of testing on the medicine. You should always determine the correct use of your medicine in order to ensure its benefits and prevent any harmful effects.
Why are there so many different kinds of medicine?
In 2016, some 8,490 medicinal products had been granted a marketing authorisation in Finland. Over 7,800 of these were prescription-only, and around 480 were over-the-counter medicines available in pharmacies with no prescription required. The marketing authorisation of around 200 over-the-counter medicines was approved in the form that large package sizes were prescription-only, but small package sizes were available for self-medication without prescription. Different medicinal substances are required in the treatment of different illnesses.
There may also be several possible alternatives to the treatment of the same illness, with the medication chosen according to individual needs. There are medicinal substances with many different modes of action for the treatment of epilepsy, for example. Many different strengths of the medicine are needed. The effects of medicines are individual, and it must be possible to adjust the dosage individually for each person. Different strengths are used for children, for example, than for adults.
The same medicine can be used for different purposes in different strengths. Acetyl salisylic acid, for instance, is used for treating fever and pain in adults in large dosages (500 mg), and as a cardiovascular medicine in low daily dosages (50 and 100 mg). The strength of a medicine is usually reported as the amount contained by a single dose. For example, "400 mg" in connection with the name of the medicine means that one tablet contains 400 mg of the active substance. The strengths of different medicinal substances cannot be directly compared with each other, even if they are used for the same purpose. The commonly used analgesics ibuprofen 400 mg and ketoprofen 25 mg alleviate pain equally well although they contain different amounts of the medicinal substance.
Many different pharmaceutical forms of a medicine are needed
Different pharmaceutical forms can be used to affect how rapid a medicine's effect is and what it targets. Medicine has the fastest effect when it is administered intravenously. Most medicines are taken orally because it is easy, and a medicine's effect is achieved relatively quickly. Tablets and capsules are the most common pharmaceutical forms taken orally. Children may find it difficult to swallow a tablet, and for this reason, medicines also exist as liquids, soluble tablets, or powders. Medicine cannot always be taken orally. If a patient is vomiting, suppositories can be used, for example, or the medicine can be injected into a muscle (intramuscular) or underneath the skin (subcutaneous).
Sometimes only a local effect is required. Asthma medicine affects the lungs, and skin creams mainly affect only the place onto which they are applied.
The same medicines are available in the market manufactured by different companies. There are often both the original preparation of the medicine and, after the patent protection has ended, generic products in the market. The quality, efficacy, and safety of the original preparation and the generic products are equal.