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If you are traveling to Russia or staying in the country for a longer period of time, chances are you might need to run to the pharmacy (аптека) at some point. I would like to give an overview of Russian medicines (лекарства) and their uses. This post is for reference only and is not meant to constitute medical advice. Feel free to follow the links to the drug pages so you can research them, consult a doctor, if needed, and make informed decisions if you ever feel sick in Russia.
The first thing you need to know is that Russian pharmacies normally only sell medicines, medical products and devices like heat pads, and occasionally diet supplements (known as БАД, or биологически активные добавки). You cannot pick up milk or a birthday card in a Russian pharmacy.
Comparing the type of medication taken in Russia and the US, I would say Russians take more medicines on an as-needed basis, and more drugs are available over the counter (без рецепта). Any Russian traveling or going on vacation will probably have a mini first-aid kit with them, full of medicines for every occasion. At the same time, barring chronic conditions, people seem to take fewer prescription drugs on a regular basis, especially when it come to mental health.
The most common painkillers (болеутоляющие, обезболивающие) in Russia are аспирин/ацетилсалициловая кислота and цитрамон. Other popular painkillers are нурофен and ибупрофен. Acetaminophen/paracetamol (парацетамол) is usually reserved for treating inflammations and is not taken for headaches and the such.
However, people do take acetaminophen for fever and colds. You can get it as парацетамол or as a component of various proprietary trademarks, such as терафлю. Some of these come in a powder (порошок) that is taken with warm water.
Indigestion is another common reason for Russian people to take over the counter medicines. Popular options include мезим and antacids like Маалокс/Альмагель. For diarrhea, people take лоперамид/лопедиум/имодиум. In addition, activated carbon (активированный уголь) may be taken for food poisoning.
Anyone who has been to Russia can attest to the fact that Russian gladly and actively use what’s herbal/home remedies. For example, camomile (ромашка), usually in infusions, is supposed to help with colds, as is шалфей (sage) and чабрец (thyme). Russians also drink a lot of hot, sweet tea to fight colds. Unlike in the US, you don’t drink soup in Russia — I would not recommend it, anyway, since Russian soups tend to be chunky!
I hope brief overview of Russian medications was useful. Have you encountered any of these while in Russia? Did you ever need to buy medicines these? I would love to hear your stories.