ULG’s Language Solutions Blog

The Meaning Of Medicine: Translating Drug Names


The misuse of prescribed medication can lead to serious health problems.

Policy makers in the United States are working to implement legislation that will help put an end to the ongoing opioid crisis, which causes thousands of deaths each year.

But it’s not just prescription painkillers that can yield serious, and sometimes fatal, results. The Federal Drug Administration estimates more than one million people experience physical harm from medication misuse each year. This number includes the misuse of prescribed drugs other than opioids.

On top of that number, a recent study found that the number of medication misuse cases taking place outside of healthcare facilities rose more than two-fold from 2000 to 2012.

Given the dangers of medication errors in one’s home country, administration of these drugs in a foreign country can make things even more complicated. Over-the-counter medications are often labeled differently overseas, making it difficult for consumers to purchase the correct drug.

However, there are ways to successfully maintain medication regimens when in a different country. Here are some tips for purchasing medication while abroad.

Use The Available Resources

No matter how ubiquitous they are, over-the-counter medications will likely have different names in different countries. In France, you’ll pick up Ibuprofène if you’ve got a headache. In Poland, you might cure aches and pains with Abfen, the brand name of a pain reliever with ibuprofen in it.

All the information listed above was found via Drugs.com/international, which acts as an international guide to drug names based on region.

It’s important to note, as well, that pill sizes will often be labeled differently when buying foreign medications.



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Plan Ahead

If you’re prescribed medication and are planning to travel to another country, it’s necessary to plan ahead. You’ll want to bring as much of your current medication as possible, just in case finding an equivalent overseas proves to be challenging.

You should also write down the ingredients of your medication to avoid confusing two different drugs.

In Great Britain, Ambyen is a medication used for patients with an irregular heartbeat. In the U.S., Ambien is a sleep aid. Mistaking one for the other could result in severe health outcomes.

Be Aware of Travel Restrictions

When leaving or entering a new country, there may be certain guidelines you need to follow with regard to prescription medication. Similarly, there might be restrictions for filling prescriptions in foreign countries.

This means it’s a good idea to bring copies of your prescriptions while traveling and review applicable laws regarding the import and export of prescribed medications. You should obtain notes from doctors, if necessary, verifying that you’re prescribed the medication you’re traveling with.

Preparation Is Key

Planning ahead and being aware of the available resources will help alleviate the confusion that can be associated with purchasing drugs in foreign countries.

Talk with your doctor, and be sure to have adequate amounts of the necessary prescriptions needed before leaving the country.

Preparation is key in securing the correct prescriptions while abroad.



Life Sciences I Translation