Are antibiotics bad for your health?

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Antibiotic overuse doesn’t just lead to medicine-resistant superbugs; it may also permanently wipe out the body’s good bacteria. 


Antibiotics are a group of medicines that are used to treat infections caused by bacteria and certain parasites. They do not work against infections that are caused by viruses - for example, the common cold or flu. Antibiotics are normally only prescribed for more serious bacterial infections - for example, pneumonia. When prescribed, it is important to take the entire course of antibiotics which helps to prevent resistance developing to that antibiotic. Most side-effects of antibiotics are not serious - for example, diarrhea, or mild stomach upset such as nausea. Although some people develop a serious allergy to some antibiotics, this is rare.

Each type of antibiotic only works against certain types of bacteria or parasites. This is why different antibiotics are used to treat different types of infection.

How do antibiotics work?

Some antibiotics work by killing bacteria or the parasite. This is often done by interfering with the structure of the cell wall of the bacterium or parasite. Some work by stopping bacteria or the parasite from multiplying.

When antibiotics are usually prescribed?

Antibiotics are normally only prescribed for more serious bacterial infections, and for some parasitic infections.
Most common infections are caused by viruses, when an antibiotic will not be of use. Even if you have a mild bacterial infection, the immune system can clear most bacterial infections. For example, antibiotics usually do little to speed up recovery of bronchitis, or most ear, nose, and throat infections that are caused by bacteria.
However, you do need antibiotics if you have certain serious infections caused by bacteria such as meningitis or pneumonia. In these situations, antibiotics are often life-saving.

When taking an antibiotic

It is important to take antibiotics in the correct way. If you do not, this may reduce how well they work. For example, some antibiotics need to be taken with food and others should be taken on an empty stomach.
Always take the entire course of antibiotics as directed by your doctor. Overuse of antibiotics has led to some bacteria mutating and becoming resistant to some antibiotics, which may then not work when really needed.

What are the side-effects?

As with all medicines, there are a number of side-effects that have been reported with each of the different antibiotics. Most side-effects of antibiotics are not serious. Common side-effects include: soft stools, diarrhea, or mild stomach upset such as nausea. Antibiotics can kill off normal defense bacteria.
Antibiotics are only available from your chemist, with a doctor's prescription.

There is no doubt that antibiotics will work, but taking antibiotics frequently will kill the body’s good bacteria. If you experience any side effects, be sure to report them to your doctor.