Drugs & Aging

, Volume 31, Issue 12, pp 883–896 | Cite as

Prevalence of Self-Medication and Associated Factors in an Elderly Population: A Systematic Review

  • Javier Jerez-Roig
  • Lucas F. B. Medeiros
  • Victor A. B. Silva
  • Camila L. P. A. M. Bezerra
  • Leandro A. R. Cavalcante
  • Grasiela Piuvezam
  • Dyego L. B. Souza
Systematic Review



The aging of the world populat ion together with changes in the epidemiological profile of diseases have led to increases in both the consumption of medicines and health expenses. In this context, self-medication has gained importance as a rapid treatment that bypasses bureaucracy and, in some instances, delays in obtaining medical assistance.


Verification of self-medication prevalence and associated factors in the elderly, as well as identification of the main categories of non-prescription drugs utilized.

Data Sources

The following databases were utilized: Cochrane, PubMed, Scopus, LILACS, SciELO, PAHO, MedCarib and WHOLIS.

Study Eligibility Criteria

Studies on the prevalence of self-medication in community-dwelling elderly were included. Review studies were excluded, as well as MSc dissertations, PhD theses and research with convenience sampling.


Community-dwelling individuals aged 60 years or over.

Study Appraisal and Synthesis Methods

A systematic review of population-based articles published up until September 1, 2014, is presented. The STrengthening the Reporting of OBservational studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) Statement was applied for critical assessment of the articles, and those with a minimum score of 60 % were selected for inclusion in the review.


Thirty-six articles were selected, of which 28 were included after critical reading. The prevalence of self-medication varied between 4 and 87 %, and the majority of studies reported values between 20 and 60 %. The mean prevalence reported in the articles was 38 %, but several criteria were utilized to measure self-medication. The most commonly utilized non-prescription drugs were analgesics and antipyretics, followed by non-hormonal anti-inflammatories, cardiovascular agents, dietary complements and alternative medicine components. The variables that presented positive associations with self-medication were female sex, visits to pharmacists, depression, functional dependency, recent hospitalization, oral pain, restriction of activities and physical inactivity. The variables with negative associations were medical appointments, married status, use of health services, satisfaction with living arrangements, living in institutional settings and private health plans.


Different definitions of self-medication were employed in the identified articles, which hindered the comparison between studies and meta-analysis. Only 15 studies analysed associated factors and a minority carried out multivariate data analysis.


Self-medication is frequent among the elderly, with different prevalence values found in the selected studies, probably because of heterogeneity in definitions and samples. Future studies are necessary, utilizing a standard self-medication criterion to facilitate comparison and elucidate the factors associated with this behaviour.


Electronic Supplementary Material Table Medical Appointment Kappa Index Central Nervous System Drug Cardiovascular Agent 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors wish to thank the Virtual Library of Health Sciences of the Balearic Islands (Spain) (Biblioteca Virtual de Ciències de la Salut de les Illes Balears) for providing the articles utilized in this review.

Sources of funding

No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review.

Conflicts of interest

The authors have no potential conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.

Supplementary material

40266_2014_217_MOESM1_ESM.docx (48 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 47 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Javier Jerez-Roig
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lucas F. B. Medeiros
    • 3
  • Victor A. B. Silva
    • 3
  • Camila L. P. A. M. Bezerra
    • 3
  • Leandro A. R. Cavalcante
    • 3
  • Grasiela Piuvezam
    • 4
  • Dyego L. B. Souza
    • 4
  1. 1.Graduate Program in Collective HealthFederal University of Rio Grande do NorteNatalBrazil
  2. 2.Hospital Can MissesIbizaSpain
  3. 3.Federal University of Rio Grande do NorteOnofre Lopes University HospitalNatalBrazil
  4. 4.Graduate Program in Collective HealthFederal University of Rio Grande do NorteNatalBrazil

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