My mom is a nurse. There are several things she is adamant about, and one of them is that you should always finish your antibiotics. Previously, we believed that you should “complete the course” and take all of your antibiotics. However, an article published July 26, 2017 indicates that this may not be the best idea.
Why Finish Your Antibiotics?
Let’s begin by looking at the logic behind finishing your antibiotics. Imagine you have a bacterial infection of some kind. Your doctor prescribes antibiotics. Now, you may not realize there have been tons of studies about various infections, the types of antibiotics that work best, and the number of days that it takes these antibiotics to do their job.
So, your doctor examines your infection and prescribes an antibiotic proven to work on most of the population. You start the antibiotic, and it starts working.
It starts killing bacteria. Naturally, the weakest or least resistant bacteria die first. With less bacteria, or simply because a couple of days can make a world of difference in how you feel, you start to feel better.
Now, you might feel like you have a decision to make. It may be tempting to stop taking your antibiotics because you’re feeling better, but is it better to finish off your dose? The answer relates to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Previously, we believed that if you started a round of antibiotics and didn’t finish it, you ran the risk of creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Scientists are now saying that this is not necessarily the case.
In an opinion article on The BMJ (which is only able to be completely read if you are a member or health professional), Dr. Martin Llewelyn believes that the claim that stopping antibiotic treatment early causes antibiotic-resistant bacteria is not supported by scientific evidence. Dr Llewelyn, who is a professor of infectious diseases at Brighton and Sussex Medical School in the U.K., actually argues the contrary–that finishing all your antibiotics may lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. His belief is that when we take antibiotics for longer than necessary, that’s when we increase antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Globally, antibiotic-resistant bacteria is on the rise. If you believe each person’s completion of their prescribed antibiotics determines whether antibiotic-resistant bacteria are created, that statistic doesn’t necessarily make sense.
So What’s the Answer?
Health professionals are trading in the “complete the course” slogan. Instead, they recommend that patients take their medicines “exactly as prescribed.” Some doctors are also advocating for updated research.
Since bacteria strains evolve, it’s important to understand exactly how today’s bacteria is impacted by antibiotics. This would also give doctors more precise information about how long it takes antibiotics to completely kill specific bacterial strains.
Because that, after all, is the goal of an antibiotic. When you have a bacterial infection, you want to take the most effective antibiotic for just as long as is necessary to kill the bacteria.
If You Stop Too Early
If you stop taking the antibiotic before all the bacteria dies, you have killed the weakest, least resistant bacteria and left the strongest, most resistant bacteria to thrive and multiply. And, if you stopped taking your antibiotics because you were feeling good, the growth of this stronger bacteria will probably change that feeling.
You can soon expect to feel ill again if your antibiotics didn’t killed all the bacteria. When you visit your doctor this time, their job will be more challenging. They will probably have to select a different antibiotic to treat your case.
If You Take It Too Long
Some medical professional believe that if you take antibiotics for too long, you run the risk of creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Here’s another hypothetical situation.
Let’s say your antibiotics work, and they kill all the bacteria that are causing your issue. At this point, there is no need to continue taking antibiotics. But let’s say that you are on day 5 of 10 of your prescription.
Your doctor probably isn’t testing you to see if the infection persists. Probably, your doctor is relying on the information that for whatever you have, you should take this antibiotic for 10 days.
Now, your body is cleared on day 5, so what do these antibiotics do for the other 5 days? Since our bodies have naturally occurring bacteria that is essential to functioning, maybe the antibiotics start impacting this bacteria. Regardless of what the antibiotic kills, the fact remains that whatever bacteria is left survived a round of this type of antibiotics. Therefore, those bacteria are resistant to that antibiotic. And this is the thought behind how taking your full dose of antibiotics could lead to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
What to Do?
Always discuss any concerns you may have with your doctor and his or her support staff. If you’re concerned about your antibiotic or the number of days to take it, talk with your doctor. When you’re in the doctor’s office is absolutely the best place to have this conversation and ask any questions that you may have.
Also, if you’re thinking of stopping your antibiotics, call your doctor’s office and talk to one of the staff members first. Please keep in mind, unless you have some special lab at your house where you can test for bacterial infections, you do not have more information about your situation than your doctor. Do not make the decision of whether or not to continue your antibiotics alone.
Fro more information on this topic, please read “Why You May Not Have to Finish All Your Antibiotics.”
Do you have more information about taking antibiotics? Please let us know below.
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