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What Your Doctor Is Really Thinking

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Taking Medication

Q. How does a doctor choose the brand of medication that she suggests?

A. Studies have shown that doctors' drug choices can be influenced by biotech or pharmaceutical reps, who send them free samples or even treat them to meals (although medical institutions are limiting this practice). Sometimes, the bias can simply be chalked up to exposure; with multiple similarly effective drugs on the market for the same ailment, a doctor might be more inclined to prescribe something that's been presented to him in person, says Dr. Karen. But most MDs do their best to remain objective. "Some physicians don't allow pharmaceutical representatives to visit their practices at all," says Dr. Chuang. The doctors that FITNESS editors spoke to say they often suggest a medication based on what's in their office and what will be least costly -- but not to the exclusion of what they feel is best. "We're aware of the newest things on the market, but that doesn't mean we forget about what we've previously used successfully," says Dr. Fryhofer.

Q. Can I take a medication I already have rather than waiting to see my doctor?

A. Our experts agree that self-medicating is appropriate only in the short term. "If a woman recognizes her symptoms and it's a familiar pattern -- for example, she gets a UTI after sex -- taking a single course of a prescription medication she already has is acceptable," says Dr. Savard. (Be sure to check the expiration date.) "But if you have frequent flare-ups of a condition, you should get a culture or other test to make sure you don't have something more serious."

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