Pharmaceutical Drugs: Definition & Types

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Did you know that pharmaceutical drugs is just a fancy term for something you already know and have probably used? This lesson defines the term and then gives you various examples of the types of pharmaceutical drugs we use in medicine.

What Are Pharmaceutical Drugs?

When you're sick, you might have to go to the doctor. That doctor may need to turn to pharmaceutical drugs to treat you and get you to feel better. Pharmaceutical drugs are chemicals that are designed to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure a disorder. In laymen terms, we simply call them medicines.

There are an immense number and types of pharmaceutical drugs. This lesson will give you an idea of their wide variety.

Brain & Heart

The most important structure in your body is the brain! But like any other organ or tissue of the body, it can suffer from many disorders. Take, for example, epilepsy. Epilepsy is a term that refers to a group of various kinds of seizures that all have one underlying thing in common. That thing is an abnormal, sudden, immense, and simultaneous discharge of many nerve cells in the brain. How can we possibly treat something like this? Well, we can use one type of pharmaceutical drug, called the benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines help put a stop to seizures by reducing the firing rate of nerve cells. If they can't fire off like crazy to cause the seizure then the seizure is stopped.

You'll probably agree that after the brain, one of the most important structures of the body is the heart. And you're probably well aware of the many different problems the heart can have. Heart attacks, valve defects, and arrhythmias to name just a few. To treat heart-based disorders we turn to, logically, cardiovascular drugs. ''Cardio-'' means heart and ''-vascular'' refers to blood vessels. Let's take, for example, a condition known as heart failure. During heart failure, the heart fails to pump out adequate amounts of blood into the blood vessels. You can think of the heart as being weak during heart failure. So how would we treat this? Well, we'd turn to, in part, inotropic drugs. Positive inotropes are medications that enhance cardiac contractility. In other words, they give the heart a little extra strength to increase the amount of blood it pumps out.

Lungs & Skin

Of course, our body isn't limited to just the brain and heart. As important as those two structures are, we couldn't live without our respiratory system which, of course, includes our lungs. That being said, have you ever felt like you were coughing your lungs out? Well, a cough is actually a really good thing, sometimes. See, coughing helps get rid of irritants in our respiratory system. This keeps us healthy. However, excessive coughing can not only be painful, it can actually be irritating itself! Seriously. Too much coughing can actually lead to even more coughing due to the irritation excessive coughing causes.

This is why sometimes doctors try to put an end to the cough. One of the pharmaceutical drugs types we can use for this are the opioids. Opioids, a type of narcotic, are more famous for the relief of moderate to severe pain. However, the opioids also act on specific cough centers in the brain. The opioids decrease the cough centers' sensitivity to whatever it is that's stimulating the cough in the respiratory system. This helps minimize coughing.

In some cases, a cough shouldn't be suppressed, though. For example, the doctor may decide that if a cough is caused by an underlying bacterial infection, it's best to treat the underlying infection instead of the cough. Remember, the cough is a defensive mechanism and it helps your body get rid of nasty things, including bacteria.

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