To determine the use of nonprescription medicines in a cohort of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patients and to identify a subgroup of patients liable to spend more on nonprescription medicines.
A questionnaire was given to MS patients attending a Neurology out-patients clinic during the previous year.
Medicines from a General Practitioner (GP), pharmacy and 'other' sources utilized in the last month were determined, along with demographic data. Additional information was obtained from hospital notes.
One hundred and seventeen MS patients responded to the questionnaire, giving a response rate of 79% (117/148).
Responders differed from nonresponders only in age, with responders being significantly older than nonresponders (P = 0.011).
Over one-third of medicines taken in the last month were nonprescription medicines (35%; 219/627). A Gamolenic Acid containing preparation was the most popular, purchased by 28% of patients.
Fifteen percent (17/117) of MS patients had exceeded the recommended daily allowance of a vitamin (frequently vitamins A, D and E), and one exceeded the upper safe level for daily self-supplementation of vitamin A and D.
Females spent significantly more than males in the previous month ( pound10.09 compared with pound5.53, respectively; P = 0.022).
Patients who were older, reported worsening MS symptoms in the last year and those who exhibited greater disability were more likely to have been prescribed medicines by a GP (P < 0.0005), although they were not more likely to self-prescribe or take alternative remedies (P > 0.05).
However, those with poorer mobility were significantly less likely to have purchased a pharmacy medicine in the last month (P = 0.033).
MS patients were high users of nonprescription medicines.
A typical subgroup of MS patients that spent more on nonprescription medicines could not be identified, aside from females.
Furthermore, the strong predictors for increased use of prescription medicines (increasing age, severity of symptoms in the last year and poorer mobility) were not found for nonprescription medicines.
Excessive intake of the fat soluble vitamins could lead to HyperVitaminosis, the effects of which could exacerbate or mimic MS symptoms.
Health professionals should be aware of these issues and counsel the MS patient accordingly, particularly as the majority purchased products from 'other' sources where typically there is no health-professional available to give advice.
The limited use of pharmacy medicines by the more disabled patient could indicate a problem with access to the pharmacy, or could reflect the greater use of nonprescription medicines.