Researchers at the University of Utah have found that doctors are prescribing antibiotics when people don’t really need them, a practice that may cause long-term problems.
Researchers say that when patients take antibiotics, the “good” bacteria living in the body is killed, which can cause side effects like rashes and diarrhea. Andrew Pavia, a professor of pediatrics at the U. who contributed to the study, says that’s only one consequence.
“The bacteria that live in your body can become resistant to antibiotics so that when you need them, they will work less well,” Pavia says.
The study found that, in an effort to be safe, doctors sometimes give patients antibiotics for colds or small infections. Pavia says taking an antibiotic will kill bacteria, but it will not successfully treat a viral infection.
Adam Hersh is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the U and the lead author of the study. He says patients with mild illnesses should hold off on taking antibiotics to see if the body can overcome the infection on its own. He also says patients should ask questions when their doctors want to prescribe antibiotics.
“Am I likely to get better without taking the antibiotic? I think that’s the first question that patients should ask,” Hersh says.
The two researchers said that their findings aren’t meant to scare people away from taking antibiotics when they’re really needed, but they warn that a built-up resistance to antibiotics can cause problems when patients develop serious bacterial infections.