Translating Medication Names

Frank Gillingham, MD

Blood pressure pills, antibiotics, birth control pills and most other prescription and over-the-counter medications are sold under different names in different countries. A popular cholesterol-lowering drug named Lipitor in the U.S., for example, goes by Xarator in Italy and Zarator in Spain. Ambien, a popular agent for jet lag, is known as Somit in Argentina and Stilnox in most of Europe. In addition, a medication that's available in 5, 10 and 20 mg tablets in the US may only be available in 10 mg tablets elsewhere. A physician in Spain summarized the situation:

"Commercial names [of drugs],even those manufactured by the same company, usually vary from country to country."—Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon, Madrid.

Expatriates who rely on medications for themselves or their family members should determine the commercial name of these medications, using an international drug information guide such as Drug Translation Guide. In addition, expatriates should learn, or have available, the generic (also known as chemical) name of these medications, which is more likely to be familiar to physicians and pharmacists.

Other important points regarding medications: