Monday, May 18, 2015

The Differences Between Brand Name and Generic Medications

With rising health care costs and health insurance premiums these days, you’ll inevitably be asked whether you will accept a generic alternative for your prescription. Some people will tell you they are clinically the same while others will insist they are not. So who’s right? More importantly, does it matter?

The answer to the first question is it depends. It is true that the two have the same active ingredients. But, they may not necessarily have the same inactive ingredients. The answer to the second question is that for most people, these differences won’t matter much since both will provide the same intended effects. However, if you are one of the few people sensitive to certain ingredients, knowing how they can differ can help your doctor and pharmacist find the medication best suited for you.

So, how do brand and generic medications differ? The most obvious difference is cost. Generic medications tend to be cheaper since competition between multiple drug manufacturers bring down cost. As a result, insurance companies usually put them higher up on their formularies, or preferred medication lists. This is why an increasing number of prescriptions are, by default, being filled by generic versions. Note that there may be several generic manufacturers with different prices so it’s a good idea to compare options at different pharmacies. In certain cases, prices may be significantly different.

Aside from cost, there may also be chemical differences. Medications consist of active and inactive ingredients. The active ingredient(s) is what creates the therapeutic effect. Inactive ingredients make up the vehicle that delivers the active ingredients into your body (e.g. pill, capsule, syrup, etc.) While the listed active ingredients and dosage should be the same between comparable brand name and generic medications, the other ingredients and impurities contained within them may differ.

When making the active ingredients, different manufacturers may employ different processes and chemicals. This can lead to different kinds and amounts of impurities being left in the final product. Manufacturers check to make sure these impurities are within safe limits for human consumption. Even so, a small number of people may be more sensitive to the impurities in one manufacturer’s product than another’s and develop unwanted side effects.

Similarly, the chemical compounds used to formulate the pills, capsules, and syrups can also differ between manufacturers. Just look at the variety of colors and flavors that medications come in. While most of these chemicals are relatively inert inside the human body, some people may react to them, leading to side effects.

Finally, manufacturers test their medications to make sure that the active ingredients are released and absorbed as designed. But in some people, they don’t work exactly as expected. This can lead to the medication having a stronger or weaker effect.

Now you know the about the differences between brand name and generic versions of the same drug. But before you tell your doctor or pharmacist to keep your medication manufacturer the same, keep in mind that these differences generally affect very few people. So far, I have only come across a handful of patients in which staying with one manufacturer’s medication was clinically significant. If the medications you are taking are working as your doctor intended, there’s no need to worry. But, if you notice your medications are no longer working as well or you are having new side effects, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. They will be able to help you figure out what’s going on.


  1. People now a days are bond to self-medication. But they have awareness about generic as well as brand. They don’t take the risk to go to general medication rather try the most popular brand. Brand overdoes generic I feel.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. No matter what I think that generic medications is a great thing. Especially if we will think about amount of money that pharmaceutical companies is making every day on our health. You remember how much movies have Pharmaceutical conglomerate in an antagonist role. Think about next time in line for your prescription. Even reviews on showed how large Pharma business is.