I know that if I have stomach issues I can take an Enterogermina or an Imodium if things get severe. I know that if I have throat ache, I can take a Benagol. I know that if I have a strong headache a Tachipirina can reduce the pain.

However, those names are all Italian. Now, I did bring a few of those with me, but I might have to buy more now that I'm in the Netherlands, and drugs aren't like other products where I can look at the packaging/branding and recognize the Italian equivalent thereof.

How can I translate drug names?

  • 1
    Just as a side note, the word "drugs" in English has generally come to mean illegal drugs. "Medicine" is more commonly used for pharmacy drugs.
    – Remou
    Aug 26, 2011 at 10:50
  • 4
    @Remou - The meaning of "Drugs" is regional (and I've made myself look like a fool by not knowing this). In my experience (America, south-west coast), "drugs" used in isolation has a slight negative connotation, but it is perfectly applicable for legal medication. In fact, one of the common terms for a Pharmacy is "Drugstore". OTOH, in some places in Europe, it almost exclusively means illegal narcotics. It's probably safer to fall-back to "Medications", but don't be surprised if a doctor asks you "Are you taking any drugs", and expects you to include Tylenol (Acetaminophen).
    – Fake Name
    Aug 26, 2011 at 12:55
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    @Fake Name Apologies I should have said in real English ( :) ), rather than American English. Drugstore is not used outside the US AFAIK. Do not ask where you can buy drugs anywhere in Europe, India etc etc.
    – Remou
    Aug 26, 2011 at 13:01
  • 1
    @Remou: Actually, in India pharmacies are often referred to as 'chemists and druggists' or 'drugstores'. You're right though, pharmacy or even 'medicine store' is less ambiguous. Aug 26, 2011 at 13:40

4 Answers 4


I hand the packet to the pharmacist, who reads the chemical names and either gives me the same or equivalent, as can be checked by matching the chemical names back. The one drawback is that I end up paying a lot more than buying off the shelf drugs from a supermarket.

  • 1
    The chemical names can vary too! For example, what I call Acetaminophen, other places call Paracetamol. Really, the chemical name is "N-(4-hydroxyphenyl)ethanamide", but no one uses that.
    – Fake Name
    Aug 26, 2011 at 12:57
  • The irony of this comment together with your username did not escape me ;)
    – Mark Mayo
    Aug 26, 2011 at 13:00
  • 3
    @Mark Mayo - Yeah, one of the reasons I chose my username is the intrinsic paradox.
    – Fake Name
    Aug 26, 2011 at 22:59
  • We need a user who goes by "Generic Name" Aug 27, 2011 at 15:40
  • Of course sometimes you need a medication for which you don't have a previous packet \-: Aug 27, 2011 at 15:40

Any drug should list its chemical name or generic name, or searching up the brand name of the drug should tell you what it is. Then search the name on RXList, which contains a directory of brand drug names matched to generic names. Do note that brand names can vary in different markets; RXList primarily provides answers for US. Once you get the US brand name though, searching for other markets is usually easy.

Be very careful though substituting using this as dosage between brand names can vary, they might have other active ingredients blended in, etc. If you really aren't sure or comfortable doing all this, you're better off asking a pharmacist or a doctor for advice.

  • This is bad advice. Bacitracin is the common name for a topical antibiotic, Bacillus subtilis is normally sold as a pro-biotic. It can be dangerous to try and do this on your own, especially in a different language. When in doubt, ask a pharmacist.
    – Barry
    Aug 26, 2011 at 14:44
  • Thanks for pointing out, edited. This is a good example of why it can be a bad idea sometimes to research medicines online. Aug 26, 2011 at 14:48
  • @Barry: Some pharmacists in some countries won't speak English (or other language the buyer knows) \-: Aug 27, 2011 at 15:37

I look them up on the Internet. In the case of English I seem to be able to always find them in Wikipedia. Wikipedia will list the generic names and analogs as well as brand names and will also link to version of the article in various languages.

I jot down the names in the local language if I can find them, the generic and analog names, and if I have an empty box/bottle etc, I take that too.

I also try to tell them what my problem is and look at the chemical names on the things they show me because sometimes it's easier to spot them written than understand each other's accents.


I've had this fun the last year or so in both South America and Central Asia, heck, even Europe. I have several tablets, and they all have specific brand names. Of course at the pharmacy, apteka, apteek or whatever it's called in each place, even pronunciation varying slightly causes confusion - 'Warfarin' vs 'VarfarIn' is the difference between confusion and clarity(!).

I've found the best is to show them the previous meds box / container if you have it - as they may well recognise the brand name, and failing that, the 'generic' name. Or in one case in Uzbekistan, I went on Wikipedia and searched for the drug, and found what it was called over there.

Be sure to check the dosage though, as the concentrations can vary from country to country, and make sure to check it online afterwards if they give you something that seems a bit different - I had a doctor at a hospital in Tajikistan prescribe me something completely wrong - if I'd blindly followed their instructions I'd have ended up in hospital!

I know Ankur mentions the pharmacist or doctors - but seriously, in some of these countries their advice was shocking - offering me 'calcium' supplements instead of blood thinners, quite scary to see! Worst case, have the phone number of your GP on hand, as you can give them a call and get them to look it up and confirm that it's ok.

However most 'tourist' meds - headache, stomach etc are pretty common and standard everywhere and a simple headrub with pained face, or pointing to one's stomach will usually elicit the sympathetic look and the appropriate medicine for the area :)

  • 5
    In many countries, you don't need to study a medical degree or receive any training to become a pharmacist. So that's one thing to be aware of, as Mark points out. Aug 26, 2011 at 13:43

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