Medicine: Antibiotics – the Good vs. the Bad

April 21, 2016

Today’s topic is one that sparks strong reactions from a lot of people. That topic is antibiotics. In the past, perhaps, antibiotics were prescribed rather liberally – probably because they were amazing drugs that were able to cure diseases that killed people before their existence, and physicians may have had a “better safe than sorry” mentality. However, in the last several years, a lot of doctors have become much more cautious when prescribing. There are several reasons for this, most of which have to do with increased resistance, and side effect profiles.

In addition, there is a huge movement toward health and natural treatment of disease. Now there are a lot of people who want to rely purely on essential oils, supplements, and other homeopathic means to fight infection. I think that’s fine, kinda. My concern comes from the lack of supportive evidence and federal regulation on a lot of these products. If you have a viral infection and they make you feel better, more power to you, but when facing a serious bacterial infection, I wouldn’t personally put all of my eggs in that basket.

If you’ve read until here, thanks! You rock! If not, that’s cool too. Here are the nuts and bolts regarding the good and bad of antibiotics.

The Good:

  • Antibiotics save lives. It’s really that simple. You can’t fight sepsis with peppermint oil or ginseng. If you have bacteria in your blood and you don’t get treatment quickly, it can kill you. That is one of the worst-case-scenarios in a bacterial infection that goes untreated.
  • Antibiotics can help you feel better faster. If you have pneumonia or strep throat, an antibiotic can have you back in fighting shape faster.
  • Antibiotics can help prevent your infection from getting worse. Part of the reason we are so aggressive with checking for and treating strep throat is that the bacteria can go on to cause other problems if not treated, namely kidney and heart problems. The same goes for a bladder infection. If the infection travels up to your kidneys you are dealing with a way more serious infection.

The Bad:

  • Antibiotics can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Outside of the hospital setting, a lot of physicians will prescribe a probiotic in conjunction with specific antibiotics in an effort to preserve natural gut flora. Some antibiotics can kill all of the bacteria in your gut, including the healthy ones, throwing off the normal bacterial proportions. One of the more dreaded complications of this is an aggressive diarrhea due to an overgrowth of C. diff. It’s debilitating and can be pretty easily spread. Yes, this is a case where your antibiotic can cause a new infection. Many people can have changes in their bowel habits after using antibiotics, so going on a probiotic may not be a bad idea no matter what. I personally think most of our diets leave something to be desired, so the vast majority of us could do well with a probiotic anyway.
  • Using antibiotics frequently increases your chances of resistance. Now-a-days we do cultures on a lot of different specimens to determine what bacteria specifically is causing an infection, and what antibiotics it’s susceptible to. Using antibiotics a lot can make the bugs in your body stronger and harder to fight off. This can result in the need for a newer and more expensive antibiotic. That can take a number on your bank account, and no one likes that.
  • Side effects. All medications have side effects, but it seems like antibiotics have more than most other medication classes. They can have damaging effects on your liver, or kidneys. They can have an effect on heart conduction, cause you to be sensitive to the sun, make your tendons prone to rupture, etc. A lot of the more serious side effects are fairly rare, but that doesn’t matter if you end up being one of the people who has to suffer through one. This is another reason why doctors have to be careful about when to prescribe antibiotics and which to choose.

This is just a little information and it barely scratches the surface, but hopefully it helps to clarify why antibiotics are important and necessary in certain situations. On the flip side, however, there is a lot that goes into decision-making regarding antibiotics and they aren’t something that should be prescribed haphazardly.

Thanks for stopping by!

XOXO – Emmy Lou Lou

 

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