Harvard Women's Health Watch

By the way, doctor: Are generic and brand-name drugs really the same?

Q. I recently switched from Prilosec to its generic form, omeprazole. The generic form doesn't give me as much relief from heartburn as Prilosec does. Aren't generics supposed to be the same as the brand-name drugs?

A. A generic drug and its brand-name version should be equally effective. They are identical in most ways: They contain the same active ingredient at the same dose and strength and they are taken in the same way for the same conditions. In fact, a generic drug doesn't gain FDA approval until the manufacturer proves that it is statistically as effective and as safe as the brand-name drug and is manufactured according to the same standards. The FDA conducts about 3,500 inspections a year to ensure that production quality standards are met.

Generics can differ from brand-name drugs in their color, flavor, and inactive ingredients. In the United States, trademark regulations prevent the sale of generic drugs that look exactly like the brand-name drug. Individual reactions to the inactive substances in the generic drug — including allergic reactions — could alter its effectiveness, but these reactions are just as likely with a brand-name drug. If this problem occurs, you should inform your clinician and see if another form of the drug will work better for you.

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