What Everyone Should Know Before Taking an Antibiotic

Antibiotics fears
Photo credit: HNeal

Within hours of coming home from the pharmacy with a multitude of prescriptions in hand, I clutched my stomach, groaning in misery. I should’ve known I wouldn’t have been able to handle the prescription-strength painkillers I was instructed to take every six hours, even if I only took half the recommended dose. I seldom take even as little as a baby aspirin when it comes to pain, not even during or after childbirth (which may or  may not have been dumb). But three days later, my stomach was still a mess. Nothing helped — not taking the pills with food, not taking them right before bed so I could sleep through the side effects. Nothing.

Then, as I was tossing out the bags my meds came in (yes, three days later), I noticed the blue box warning: may cause stomach upset now or in the next few weeks or months. The terrifying label wasn’t on the pain meds; it was on the antibiotics. The antibiotics I didn’t want in the first place because I’ve heard all about bacterial resistance and what not, yet I’m too much of a pushover to challenge my doctor on it. I mean, if I’m sick enough to actually go to the doctor (or take my son to the doctor), do I really want to turn down a potential solution? No way.

But that’s another issue. Back to the warning label. A few MONTHS?! You mean to tell me that this spring, when the weather turns warmer, the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and the birds are singing, I might have diarrhea because I took a handful of tiny pink pills in the middle of December?! Fabulous. Add this to the list of things I can worry about in 2014.

As if that weren’t enough to concern me, reading the rest of the drug literature that came in the box was equally, if not more, frightening. I don’t even have the adjectives for what I read online: risk of death! Holes in your gut! Bacteria will feed on you! While I know some of this may be propaganda and exaggeration and whatnot, that doesn’t make it any better. My doctor gave me a pill for something I may or may not have, said nothing of the side effects, and sent me on my merry way without so much as a mention of a follow-up appointment or what to do if I didn’t feel better (or got worse). So reassuring.

I’ve spent the last two months trying desperately to heal my gut, which has been damaged from food allergies. I was making such great (although slow) progress, when I ruined it all in a couple of days by succumbing to the pressure to take antibiotics for an illness without proof that it was caused by bacteria or a virus. While beneficial for a bacterial infection, antibiotics do nothing for a viral infection. I was given antibiotics because supposedly what I had was “going around.” A bacteria that was being spread among people my age in my community. It only made sense that I had it too. Here’s your scripts, see ya!

But wait. They didn’t do any cultures or specific tests or trials to determine the cause of my illness (pneumonia, by the way) before prescribing broad-spectrum antibiotics. What’s to make me believe they tested any of the other people who came in with the same symptoms? Did the hospital really know those cases were bacterial as well? And why don’t I know anyone else sitting at home hacking up a pneumonia-infested lung if it’s running so rampant? All questions I can only think of now that I’m starting to recuperate and think straight. Why isn’t there more education and information about antibiotics out there?

I might know more than some being in the health field, but I still caved and took them. I feel like I should know more and have more support. Taking antibiotics can kill the bad guys making you sick, but they can also destroy the good guys that fight to keep you healthy. That means you’re susceptible to more illness. More bacterial infection. More antibiotics. Not finishing a full course of antibiotics can give bacteria the superpowers they need to outsmart that particular drug, eventually becoming resistant to it entirely. That means we need more and stronger drugs. What about the antibiotics in our food? We can’t deny they’re in there anymore. Are those low doses and small but consistent exposures to drugs making us all more resistant to the antibiotics we currently have available? It’s scary. The knowing and the not knowing.


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