From helping cure a headache to lowering blood pressure to prevent heart disease, medications are an important part of everyday life. Pharmacology (pronounced fahr-muh-KOL-uh-jee) is the study of these medications and how they affect the people who take them for treatment or to manage a disease or condition. The field includes the study of a variety of drugs, from over-the-counter medications and those available only with a prescription from a health care provider, to dietary and herbal supplements.
Pharmacology is tied closely to similar fields. Pharmacokinetics (pronounced fahr-muh-koh-ki-NET-iks), for example, is the study of drug absorption, distribution, metabolism, and elimination. For a medication to be effective, the appropriate amount must be given. The medication must also reach its effective target. To do this, interactions need to occur between the medication and the body. The process of pharmacodynamics (pronounced fahr-muh-koh-dahy-NAM-iks) explains how the medication affects the body.
A recent field of study, pharmacogenetics (pronounced fahr-muh-koh-juh-NET-iks), evaluates how someone’s body will respond to certain drugs based on her/his genes. A person’s genes determine the makeup of the body’s proteins. As drugs travel through the body, they interact with these proteins. Because everyone’s genes are different, even if in some cases only slightly different, each person will respond in unique ways to medications. Pharmacogenetics helps determine how much or what type of medication people will need based on their genetic makeup. This field is also called personalized medicine.1
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