I'm wrote some documentation in which I needed to refer to the list of drugs that a person was taking at a given time. This list might also include a dosage as well (e.g. 'Aspirin 300mg daily').

I used the term 'medication(s)', but someone else suggested 'medicine(s)' as an alternative. Personally, I think it sounds worse and may be less clear, as 'medicine' can also refer to the general practice of medicine. But maybe that's just me.

Is there any reason why I should prefer one over the other?

Note: this is for labeling GUI elements and in related documentation.


Medications is the proper term for substances used for medical treatment, esp. pharmaceuticals. People can self-medicate (and they do all the time). They don't self-medicine. Medications includes vitamins and other supplements people take for health reasons. The verb medicate (to treat medicinally) is from 1620s. Health professionals usually refer to these as meds.

Medicine, though used by lay persons to indicate drugs, is actually the art or science of healing. There is holistic medicine, allopathic medicine, homeopathic medicine, etc.

On a medical chart, we often list drugs/alcohol separately, because it refers to illicit drugs.

We do not use the word prescriptions, because that would exclude over-the-counter medications the patient might be taking, e.g. aspirin, benadryl or other for allergies, decongestants, supplements, herbals, etc.

In addition to dosage, we usually have a space for start and stop dates for medications, as a past history of medications is important to know as well. It is important to know what the patient has taken before that has or hasn't worked for chronic or recurrent problems.

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  • Thanks, this is kind of what I was thinking, but you've put it much more clearly. In the application we're designing the history of medications is not important (at least that's what I've been told; I'm not a medical professional). – p.s.w.g Apr 18 '14 at 21:54
  • Note that many dictionaries include medicine as a synonym of medication, and include "a drug or other preparation for the treatment or prevention of disease" as a definition of medicine - the "lay persons' definition" that you mention appears to have become a "legitimate" one. – GreenAsJade Sep 13 '14 at 7:23
  • My answer was given from a medical professional's viewpoint for the OP's context. Also, on a prescription bottle, the label refers to it's contents as medication (do not drink of drive while on this mdication.) The lay term is fine and understandable. I've never corrected someone asking if "there was any medicine they could take" for their illness. – anongoodnurse Sep 13 '14 at 7:34
  • Good one. So it should be medicinal values or medicational values? Well there not such a word as medicational...at least as per the dictionary. – aspiring Mar 13 '15 at 23:40
  • @aspiring - it would be medicinal value. :-) – anongoodnurse Mar 13 '15 at 23:50

Looking at it as an outsider, it seems to me that it should be:

Medicine (noun) - 1) Referring to the field itself, the profession of healing.

Medication (noun) - 1) The act of using a method from the field of medicine to treat someone.

Medicate (verb) - 1) To treat someone using a method from the field of medicine.

As for the pills themselves, I would refer to them as pills, drugs, or as medical substances.

So when I hear someone say "Use this medication", I actually hear "Use this method of medication (the method of giving them this particular drug/substance/process)"

If that makes sense.

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Neither term is preferable.

It is fashionable to say “medication” but both it and “medicine” mean drugs or other substances taken to treat or cure disease.

Any dictionary will verify this.

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I think prescription is the term to use in this case.


  1. (Medicine) a. written instructions from a physician, dentist, etc, to a pharmacist stating the form, dosage strength, etc, of a drug to be issued to a specific patient.
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    This list might also include non-prescription drugs (e.g. Aspirin). Also, while a doctor can theoretically prescribe aspirin, I don't want to limit this to a list of drugs that has been prescribed (e.g. if the person is taking it without explicit instructions from a physician) – p.s.w.g Apr 18 '14 at 21:37
  • In that case I think you can refer to them as "a list of medications" – user66974 Apr 18 '14 at 21:44
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    Prescription is the Intersection (cross-reference) of a Medication and a Patient. Prescription would have data attached to it such as Start Date, End Date, Refills Allowed, Who Prescribed it and When, Custom Directions on how and when to take it, etc... From a Database perspective I do not think of Aspirin as a Medication. Instead "Aspirin" is a Generic Medication Type or Grouping you can give to Medications. Medication either includes this Type/Grouping (or is linked to it elsewhere). Medications typically include Brand Name, Dosage, how they are taken, an NDC Code, etc... – MikeTeeVee Aug 28 '14 at 7:27

I think that Medicine is the more colloquial American English, while Medication is British English. To be more precise: Medicine is what you buy in the drug store; Medication is what you take into your body.

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    My bilingual French/English dictionary states "medication" as an Americanism for "medicine" meaning drug. E.g. Be sure and take your medication before you go to bed. Read the bottle label before taking your medication. arcadiahomecare.com/knowledge-center/healthy-living/… – Elian Apr 18 '14 at 21:52
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    It's interesting that at the free dictionary the AHD has the 'art or science of healing' sense of 'medicine' top of the list while Collins has the 'medication' sense. This reflects general usage. I think that, in her answer, medica is speaking for the medical profession across the board, reflecting the preference in the medical register. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 18 '14 at 22:03

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