When you live in a foreign country, it’s not always so easy to know what to get at the drug store when you’re sick, or even how to explain your symptoms with the right terms.
A lot of my American expats friends ask me what drugs they should get when they’re sick here in France. So if you’re a sick American expat’ somewhere around France and you wonder what the hell you should go get at a French “pharmacie” to feel better, well… Maybe this article will help.
I lived in the US for a few years and actually wrote a similar article in French for my sick and beloved Frenchies who were looking to find the right medicine for them in the USA, so I feel I’m well-placed to advise!
FYI – The FDA doesn’t approve some active ingredients used in over-the counter medications that are approved by the French authorities and vice-versa. Therefore, the perfect equivalent for your usual medicine might not exist. In most cases though, you will find the right drug to heal you. Good news is, we’re both hailing from developed countries…
Just like in the US… there are several types of stomach aches, so the pharmacist will usually ask you a few questions to clarify how you feel:
- If you have cramps and would have taken some PEPTO-BISMOL in the USA, then “SPASFON” will be the closer equivalent in France.
- If you need some anti-diarrheal medecine (“médicaments contre la diarrhée” in French) like Pepto Diarrhea Control, Kaopectate 1-D, Maalox anti-diarrheal, Imodium or Loperamide then you should get some “Smecta” in addition to a box of Tiorfan/Racécadotril, Imodium or Loperamide. The ‘Smecta’ is what people prefer here: it’s basically a natural clay made of magnesium salt and aluminum salt that is going to change the physico-chemical properties of mucus that is covering the digestive tract. By making that mucus thicker, the active ingredient of the drug will slow down the intestinal transit and will improve the consistency of the stools.
- If you have gas (“être balloné” in French) and you are used to taking GAS-EX or MYLANTA in the USA, then ask for some charcoal here (=”charbon végétal” in French). You could also ask for some probiotics (= ”probiotiques” in French), like you would in the US. A couple of probiotics exist. I would recommend THESE. This brand is well established in France and the strains are of high quality. Probiotics also tend to improve your overall immunity.
- If you have heartburn (“brulure d’estomac” in French) and you’re used to taking some antiacids like Tums, then ask for Maalox, Rocgel, Xolaam, Rolaids or even Tums.
HEADACHE, MULTIPLE PAINS, CRAMPS, FEVER
Anything that you would qualify as ‘pain relief’ (“médicaments contre la douleur” in French) in your country will be found in a box of “DOLIPRANE” here. The main active ingredient that is being used in the US in most of the pain relief medicines (like Tylenol) is called ‘Acetaminophen’. The equivalent ingredient in France is “paracetamol”. So if you have a fever or if a part of your body is hurting, take a 1-gram tablet of Doliprane every 4 hours (there is a limit to the number of pills you can take per day and it will most likely depend on your weight, so make sure you check out the instructions on the packet first). Some people also use “aspirine” or “ibuprofene” but a lot of doctors actually do not recommend these ingredients anymore.
RUNNY NOSE, SORE THROAT, COLD, STREP THROAT
If you feel like you’ve got a cold (“avoir un rhume” in French) which you would usually treat with some Cold & Flu Tablets in the US, then you’re lucky because they exist in France too. Otherwise, you can get some Doliprane in addition to a spray called a “COLLUTOIRE” that you will spray directly into the throat 3 times a day, if you have a minor sore throat.
If you have a strep sore throat (“angine blanche” in French), you will need to go to a doctor to get some “Amoxicilline” (or call “SOS médecin” if you’re stuck in bed and too tired or too sick to go out. They will send a doctor to your place for 50€ only – consultation included of course.
Good news for you my dear American expat girlfriends… The pill is SO cheap here in France compared to the price you would pay in the US. Most of them are reimbursed if you have good insurance through your work. Otherwise, it might cost you 15 € for a box of 3 monthly trays. I would also advise you to go see a gynecologist in France if you need to as it is also a lot cheaper than in the US (around 70€ for a consultation).
NB: The Lactibiane probiotics are quite expensive if you get them at the pharmacy (around 30 euros). I would advise you to get them on Amazon.fr!
You might want to do the cure for 1 or 2 months (link below)