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Understanding Medicine Terminology

Sorting Out Medicine, Medication, Drugs & More


Updated: August 6, 2008

Understanding your asthma medicine is key to keeping asthma under control. That's not as easy as it sounds, though, with several different classifications of asthma medicines available along with medicines for related conditions, such as nasal allergies and GERD. And that doesn't even take in to account general medicine terminology, applicable to medicines for all diseases and conditions. Let's try to demystify the medical speak.

General Medicine Terminology

The terms medicine, medication and drug are often used interchangeably. Different people, though, define each of these terms differently. Some people may think of medication as something that is prescribed by a doctor, while medicine is a pill or syrup you can buy over the counter yourself at the drugstore. Other people, though, would define those two terms completely the opposite.

The bottom line here is that they all basically mean the same thing: a man-made chemical you put in to your body to treat a symptom or a disease (or to prevent it). None of them specifically mean prescription and/or illegal. They're just catchall terms.

Some Other General Terms

Here are some more terms used to describe medicine:
  • Prescription, which means a drug that only a healthcare professional can authorize for you to take
  • Over the counter, a medicine that you can buy off the shelf in a pharmacy without a doctor's prescription
  • Generic, a drug, approved by the FDA, that has the same active ingredient, dosage, safety, strength and other factors as the trademarked brand version. It may be produced by a number of different drug companies after the original patent expires.

Asthma Medication Terminology

Then, as mentioned, there are terms that are specific to asthma medicines, such as:

Black box warning is another term you may have heard. Black box warnings for asthma medications have gotten a lot of press over the past year or two, so it's important to understand what they mean. I know all these terms may seem a bit mind-boggling if you or your child have just been diagnosed with asthma, but if you take the time to read the different articles linked to above, asthma treatment should begin to make more sense.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Asthma
  4. Medication Guide
  5. Asthma Medicine Terminology - Understanding Medicine Terminology

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