Why does the same medicine have different brand names?
Medicine names can be confusing, because each medicine has at least two names and sometimes more.
The active ingredient name is the name of the chemical in the medicine that makes it work. These active ingredient names are scientific and often quite difficult to remember and pronounce.
A pharmaceutical company can give its medicine another, more memorable, name under which the medicine is sold. This is the brand name.
Original brand name
The original brand is the first patented brand of a medicine. When a pharmaceutical company develops a new active ingredient, it is granted a patent for a period of time during which no other company can manufacture and sell a medicine containing the same active ingredient.
This means that for many years, only one brand of medicine is available, and the original company has the opportunity to recoup its investment in researching and developing the new medicine.
Generic brand names
Once a patent expires, other companies can develop their own version of the medicine. These are known as generic brands. Their active ingredient name always remains the same, but they are marketed under different brand names.
Due to trade mark regulations, the packaging and sometimes the medicines themselves are made to look different from each other.
What difference will using alternative brands make?
As long as the active ingredient and strength of the medicine is the same, for most people there’s no difference between brands. What matters is the active ingredient.
So if you’re offered an alternative brand you can be confident that it will work the same – either way, it’s your choice.
For some people with allergies or intolerances, it's important to find out more about the other ingredients, or inactive ingredients in your medicines.
There may also be other situations that influence your decision to switch brands.