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Do I Really Need to Finish My Antibiotics?

It’s been less than 100 years since the accidental discovery of penicillin, the first antibiotic used therapeutically. Scottish researcher Sir Alexander Fleming found a strange mold growing on a culture plate that inhibited the growth of the staphylococcus bacteria. It wasn’t until 1942 that the first American patient was treated with penicillin, but World War II caused production of the drug to explode, with 650 billion doses made per month by mid-1945.

Dr. Betsy Horton and the team at Alpha Internal Medicine keep up-to-date with the most current practices for antibiotic use. They work hard to assure you receive appropriate amounts of all medications to maximize health benefits while minimizing side effects. You can trust that you’re receiving the best advice about your antibiotic prescriptions.

The importance of antibiotics

Penicillin and other antibiotics are now some of the most important and commonly used drugs around the world. However, antibiotic resistance is also becoming a concern. When you have a bacterial infection, the harmful bacteria die during antibiotic treatment. However, your body has many helpful bacteria, too, and these also die.

Antibiotic overuse

For most people, this isn’t a problem since the healthy bacteria quickly re-establish themselves. However, exposure to antibiotics can cause these good bacteria to build resistance to the drug and it’s a characteristic that they can pass to other bacteria, including the harmful types that cause infections.

Once a bacterium resists a particular drug, that treatment is no longer as effective, and even a full course of the drug won’t eliminate the infection. Treatment typically shifts to another member of the antibiotic family.

Finishing prescriptions

Since the earliest days of penicillin use, doctors advise that you complete the full prescription, even if you feel better before it runs out. Antibiotics typically produce positive results quickly, usually with noticeable effects in 24 to 48 hours. Yet, prescriptions may be 7 to 14 days long.

Taking unnecessary medications is never a good idea. Yet when to stop an antibiotic prescription doesn’t have a simple or easy answer. Many researchers feel that the “finish the course” philosophy may be encouraging antibiotic tolerance. There’s little data into minimum effective treatment length for antibiotics.

“Finish the course” is a simple and easy to follow method. Without the specter of future resistance to an antibiotic, it makes sense for completely clearing the current infection. The alternative, “take it until you feel better,” is ambiguous, and it could mean different things to different patients.

Taking antibiotics today

As research continues into specifics about how quickly antibiotics do their crucial work, you can expect that your prescriptions have shorter durations. You may have noticed this already. Overmedication is part of the overall treatment picture for any responsible physician, so your best course of action is to follow your doctor’s advice for each illness requiring antibiotic treatment.

Any time you have concerns about the need for antibiotics, ask your Alpha Internal Medicine caregiver. They can explain why a medication and prescription length are recommended, and there may be alternative treatment options to discuss. 

You can book a consultation by contacting Alpha Internal Medicine with a phone call or through the Request Appointment tool on this page. Stay proactive about your wellness and understand the reasons for the medications you take. You’ll feel better about all aspects of your health. 

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