Over-the-counter cautions

You can head off problems from nonprescription drugs by following instructions carefully and communicating with your doctor.


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Relief for your symptoms can be as close as the nearest drugstore. Over-the-counter medicines and supplements can offer quick results, whether you've got heartburn, a headache, or a stuffy nose. And many people assume these products are safe, simply because they don't need to visit the doctor to get them. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.

Any medication that works cannot be completely safe, says Dr. Gordon Schiff, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate director of Brigham and Women's Center for Patient Safety Research and Practice. The decision to make a drug available over the counter is often more a matter of marketing than safety, he says.

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