WebMD BlogsPublic Health

Generic Drugs vs. Brand: What You Need to Know

Frieda Wiley, PharmD - Blogs
By Frieda Wiley, PharmD, RPhFebruary 7, 2019
From the WebMD Archives

One of the most common questions I get as a pharmacist is, “Are generics really as good as brand medications?” Unfortunately, there is no cut-and-dried answer. It’s not really a question of whether a brand drug is better than a generic drug, but whether the specific version of the drug you are taking is giving your body what it needs.

Two of the most common concerns patients tend to have about generic medications:

Are generic versions as strong as brand?

Many people believe that the often-cheaper price of generic drugs means that are not getting the same drug dose as you would. The FDA requires manufacturers of generic drugs to prove that the active ingredient in the generic version will produce the same result as the brand-name drug.

Though generic drugs have the same active ingredient, the inactive ingredients often vary (e.g., binders, fillers, dyes, etc.). Changing even one of these components can have a major effect on how the drug behaves. Different inactive ingredients can alter how quickly the drug dissolves, is absorbed, cleared, and eliminated from the body. When you put all of this together in the form of a pill or capsule, the generic drug may have a similar effect as the brand version, but recreating the identical effect is nearly impossible. Equate this to baking a cake. Duncan Hines has a distinct flavor, and while “off-brand” competitors may still taste good, the flavor isn’t quite the same.  

Is it okay to switch from brand to generic?

While many patients can switch between brand and generic versions of drugs without any problems, there are certain conditions and situations where switching between brand and generics is not a good idea. Some people may be very sensitive to the different inactive ingredients, or they may have a health condition that requires a very specific dose to remain stable. Also, several companies may manufacture the same generic product, but the inactive ingredients they use may vary. Finally, not all generic versions of a brand medication are the same (since they are made by different manufacturers and may have different inactive ingredients), so some patients may respond differently to one generic version of a medication than another. 

Ultimately, the question is not whether brand or generic drugs are better, but which drug is the best choice for you. Because everyone is different, the solution can vary from person to person. Luckily, your doctor or pharmacist can help you find what works best for you.

WebMD Blog
© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Blog Topics:
About the Author
Frieda Wiley, PharmD, RPh

Frieda Wiley, PharmD, RPh, is a clinical pharmacist, contract medical writer, and consultant. She has numerous publications to her credit, including O! The Oprah Magazine,Arthritis Today, US News & World Report, Everyday Health, and Costco Connection. To read more about Frieda, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

More from the Public Health Blog

  • vitamin d supplement

    'What's the Best Time of Day to Take Vitamins?'

    Knowing what time of day to take your vitamin and mineral supplements can help you maximize their effectiveness and avoid dangerous interactions.

  • man sore throat

    'Does a Sore Throat Mean I'm Sick?'

    If your only symptom is a sore throat, it may not be anything to get worked up about. But, how do you know if you need to call a doctor?

View all posts on Public Health

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

  • photo of woman comforting friend hand on shoulder

    Asking for Help as an Act of Self-Care

    For so much of my life, a gnawing fear of failure prevented me from asking for help when I needed it most. Anxiety was a primary motivator in many aspects ...

  • photo of note on kitchen counter
    Multiple Sclerosis

    Dealing With Brain Fog

    What was I saying? What am I looking for? What’s your name? What’s that called? Does this sound familiar? I bet you’ve been in this position before. It’s called ...

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More