Antibiotics: How do they work, affect your body?

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Antibiotics use has become quite prevalent nowadays that may of them have become less effective, mostly because they have worked so well and have been used so often.

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics, also called antibacterials, are powerful drugs that fight bacterial infections and can save lives when used properly. But like all medicines antibiotics have the potential to cause side effects. Normally, doctors prescribe antibiotics for serious bacterial infections such as meningitis or pneumonia. Antibiotics can also be prescribed to treat acne - a less serious condition. People can take oral antibiotics or applied directly to the skin for acne. However, antibiotics do not work against infections that are caused by viruses such as common cold or flu, or fungi (thrush in the mouth or vagina) or fungal infections of the skin. It is important to take antibiotics in the correct way. Otherwise, this may reduce how well they work or may not even work. For instance, patients should take the entire course of antibiotics as directed by their doctors even though they may feel better. If a patient stops taking an antibiotic in mid-course, germs or bacteria may be partially treated and not completely killed. In that case, bacteria may then become resistant to that antibiotic. Also, since there are some antibiotics that should not be taken with other medicines, it is important to consult with your doctor if you take other medicines.

Why it's harmful to overuse them?

Overusing antibiotics can lead to a number of health problems, including digestive system problems, acute kidney injury, allergic reactions and other disorders. Besides, if antibiotics are overused or used incorrectly there is a risk that the bacteria will become resistant - this happens when the antibiotic becomes less effective against that type of bacterium. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in response to the use of these medicines.

Side effects of antibiotics

Common side-effects of antibiotics include - diarrhoea, soft stools (faeces), nausea, bloating and indigestion, stomach pain, loss of appetite. However, one should seek immediate medical help in case any of the following side effects occur while taking antibiotics:
  • Severe watery diarrhoea and abdominal cramps, which indicate signs of a serious bacterial infection of the gut - Clostridium difficile infection.
  • Vaginal itching or discharge - signs of vaginal thrush.
  • White patches on the tongue -signs of oral thrush.
  • Shortness of breath, itchy skin rash, coughing, wheezing, tightness of the throat, which can cause breathing difficulties – signs of allergic reactions.
  • Formation of kidney stones - when taking sulphonamides.
  • Abnormal blood clotting - when taking some cephalosporins.
  • Blood disorders - when taking trimethoprim.
In rare cases, an antibiotic can lead to a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis that is rapid in onset and may cause death. Symptoms include itchy rash, throat or tongue swelling, shortness of breath and shock, vomiting, lightheadedness, and low blood pressure. World Antibiotic Awareness Week is held from 14-20 November. It aims to increase awareness of global antibiotic resistance and to encourage best practices among the general public, health workers and policy makers to avoid the further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance.

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