What to Know About Antibiotics

Antibiotics are an integral part of treating patients with many rare diseases, but there are important facts to know.

Antibiotics advice for rare disease patients

Ever since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, people have depended on antibiotics to cure a variety of conditions. Not only do we need them to treat specific bacterial maladies, but they’re also an essential part of treating recurrent infections common for people with rare diseases like primary immunodeficiency, or treating those who are undergoing medical procedures such as an organ transplant, joint replacement or a medical device implant.

Maybe you’ve heard recent news stories about antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. These bacteria now represent the greatest danger for human health, according to the World Health Organization. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year in the United States, at least 2 million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Of those 2 million, over 23,000 die each year.

With that in mind, it’s critical to find out all you can about your antibiotics, what they should be doing for you, and what to do if the medication isn’t working as expected.

Know What Antibiotics Treat

Antibiotics only affect bacteria, not viruses. (In most cases, your body’s immune system will take care of most viral issues – like colds, the flu, sore throats, chickenpox or ear infections – in a matter of days.) Antibiotics will only treat infections caused by the presence of bacteria, like strep throat, a urinary tract infection, tuberculosis, severe sinus infection and other issues.

Understand the Side Effects of Antibiotics

Antibiotics don’t only destroy the bad bacteria in the body. They will also kill the good bacteria – the colonies in your stomach that aid in digestion and help break down toxins. Therefore, in some cases, the side effects of your antibiotics are potentially harmful, as they impair the body’s ability to heal itself. If, during treatment, you experience dizziness, nausea, a yeast infection or an allergic reaction, call your doctor. If you experience prolonged diarrhea (three or more watery stools in a day), abdominal cramping or a fever, it’s critical to see your doctor immediately. Those are potentially symptoms of Clostridium difficile (known as C. diff), a serious, contagious condition that, if left untreated, could be fatal.

Get the latest stories from Vita by signing up for our newsletter.

Ask About Possible Interactions

If you are prescribed an antibiotic, make sure to tell your doctor all the other prescriptions, herbal supplements, over-the-counter medications or other substances you’re taking. In the case of drug interactions, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Follow the Instructions

Take your prescribed antibiotics carefully. Read all instructions. Some need to be taken with food, and others need to be taken on an empty stomach. Some aren’t as effective when taken with alcohol. Also, it’s important to finish the course of antibiotics, even if you feel better after the first few pills. As antibiotics kill weaker bacteria first, it will take some time to treat the rest. Failure to complete the full course of your medication could trigger a relapse.

Replenish the Good Bacteria

After your course of antibiotics, it will take your body time to restore the good kinds of bacteria. While some people take a course of probiotics to help restore the balance in their digestive system, others focus on their diet. Your doctor may recommend you avoid sugar and carbohydrates for a couple of weeks following a course of antibiotics. Sip bone broth and eat green vegetables, yogurt, kombucha (or other fermented foods) and raw cashews to re-colonize the good bacteria your body needs to flourish. Your doctor can recommend the right supplement and diet for you.

Antibiotics can save lives. Help prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance by using them correctly when prescribed.