What are the side effects of antibiotics?

doctor offering antibiotics

Antibiotics were hailed as a wonder drug that would transform our lives when they were first discovered. Many people undoubtedly are alive today thanks to antibiotics. My father’s brother died from septicaemia when he was 8 years old. He had cut his foot on a piece of metal on the beach. This was 1914 and penicillin, the first antibiotic, wasn’t discovered until 1928.  What would now be considered a minor problem was life-threatening in those days without the availability of antibiotics.

Yet there are things you need to know when you are considering taking antibiotics.

What are the short term side effects of antibiotics?

Short-term side effects of antibiotics are well-known and well-researched.

The NHS says these include:

  • vomiting
  • nausea (feeling like you may vomit)
  • diarrhoea
  • bloating and indigestion
  • abdominal pain
  • loss of appetite

Can antibiotics cause long term side effects?

The long-term effects of taking antibiotics is much more difficult to establish. Research suggests that even long after you’ve stopped taking antibiotics, your body may still be struggling. It’s likely that with more research this evidence will become even stronger and more worrying.

A 2020 study by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Harvard Medical School in the U.S., published in the journal The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology found that antibiotics use, particularly antibiotics with greater spectrum of microbial coverage, may be associated with an increased risk of new-onset inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and its subtypes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

In 2018 an international team of researchers led from the University of Copenhagen and Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen found that when 3 antibiotics were given to young healthy men for 4 days it caused an almost complete eradication of gut bacteria, followed by a gradual recovery of most bacterial species over a period of six months. After the six months, however, the study participants were still missing nine of their common beneficial bacteria and a few new potentially non-desirable bacteria had colonized the gut.

The study lead, Professor Oluf Pedersen, says:

“antibiotics can be a blessing for preserving human health but should only be used based upon clear evidence for a bacterial cause of infection,” explains.

In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in partnership with the Provincial Health Services Authority’s (PHSA) Therapeutic Evaluation Unit found that current users of fluoroquinolone antibiotics, such as Ciprofloxacin or Cipro, face a 2.4 times greater risk of developing aortic and mitral regurgitation, where the blood backflows into the heart, compared to patients who take amoxicillin, a different type of antibiotic. The greatest risk is within 30 days of use. via Commonly used antibiotics may lead to heart problems …

Can you reduce side effects of antibiotics?

Taking a probiotic can be very helpful to repopulate your digestive tract with the helpful bacteria  that have been destroyed by the course of antibiotics.

Many probiotics are useless if taken while taking antibiotics. Optibac is a company specialising in prebiotics and probiotics. They have a special combination of probiotic strains that can be taken at the same time as antibiotics. This product, called For Those On Antibiotics,  has been clinically trialled alongside antibiotics and found to reach the gut alive, unlike many probiotic supplements that are destroyed by antibiotics.

The company advise that 1 capsule is taken daily with food, preferably with breakfast, every day during the antibiotic course and for a few days afterwards or until the pack has been completed.

When you should not take antibiotics?

Antibiotics can be lifesaving, but there are lots of situations when it is not useful to take them. They will not help you feel better now or get better more quickly.

The NHS says:

“Many mild bacterial infections get better on their own without using antibiotics.

Antibiotics do not work for viral infections such as colds and flu, and most coughs and sore throats.

Antibiotics are no longer routinely used to treat:

  • chest infections
  • ear infections in children
  • sore throats

Except “People at a high risk of infection may also be given antibiotics as a precaution, known as antibiotic prophylaxis.”

What is the proper way to take antibiotics?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises:

“If your doctor decides an antibiotic is the best treatment when you’re sick:

  • Take them exactly as your doctor tells you.
  • Do not share your antibiotics with others.
  • Do not save them for later. Talk to your pharmacist about safely discarding leftover medicines.
  • Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. This may delay the best treatment for you, make you even sicker, or cause side effects.

“Talk with your doctor and pharmacist if you have any questions about your antibiotics.”