Antibiotics are not a drug but a collective name for a whole group of drugs. Used in the right context, it can treat infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics can affect our body in different ways that it can be good to be aware of.
In recent years, there has been much talk about antibiotic resistance, which in practice means that antibiotics have been used a little too often, unnecessarily, which in turn has contributed to bacteria becoming immune. However, this does not mean that you should stop using antibiotics but instead use it when it is really needed. Sometimes antibiotics can be called penicillin but it is a simplification as penicillin is only a certain group of the many antibiotics available.
This is how antibiotics work
First and foremost, antibiotics work only in infections caused by bacteria and do not work on viruses. Most bacterial infections heal by themselves, but sometimes the body’s own defenses need help on the pile, for example in severe bacterial infections. Then antibiotics are used which act by damaging the different functions of the bacterial cell, which or what functions the antibiotic attacks depend on the type of antibiotic used.
The majority of the antibiotics available affect only one type of bacterium, they are called because they have a “narrow spectrum”. The opposite is “broad spectrum”, when the antibiotic affects several varieties but can also interfere with the body’s own bacterial flora, especially then good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore, they use primarily narrow-spectrum antibiotics that become a kind of targeted treatment that only damages the bacteria that are disease-causing.
Which antibiotic you choose depends entirely on the bacterium that causes infections and the form in which the antibiotic is given; tablet, liquid or injection. Some common antibiotic groups:
Penicillin of various types are primarily used in, for example, throat flushing, sinusitis, ear inflammation, pneumonia, larynx, skin infections and urinary tract infection.
tetracyclines is used, for example, in some types of pneumonia, genital infections or sinusitis when regular penicillin has not helped, or if you are allergic to regular penicillin. Some tetracyclines can also be used to treat acne.
Macrolides is mainly used for certain infections caused by the bacterium mycoplasma, such as pneumonia. Sometimes macrolides are used instead of penicillin in penicillin allergy.
quinolones Used in severe urinary tract infection, gonorrhea, prostate infection and severe intestinal infection. They can also be used in sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, and in certain respiratory tract infections or prevention of meningitis.
Trimethoprim and sulfonamides Trimethoprim is available alone and in combination with sulfonamides, sometimes called sulfa. Trimethoprim is used in uncomplicated urinary tract infection. Trimetorim and sulfonamides in combination are primarily used for more severe urinary tract infections, but can also be used in some cases for respiratory tract infections.
Side effects of antibiotics
There are side effects to antibiotic treatment that vary depending on which antibiotic you have been prescribed. Common side effects are:
- gastrointestinal disorders
- fungal infections
Generally, skin rashes are a common side effect of several of the antibiotics used, but can of course also be due to the infection itself. Treatment with tetracyclines can also cause skin reactions if exposed to strong sunlight. Most types of skin rash are mild but if you get hives, severe itching, fever or facial swelling, you should stop treatment and consult your doctor.
In women, the reduced amount of bacteria, useless and beneficial, can cause fungal infection of the genital area.
Antibiotics and stomach upset
As mentioned earlier, antibiotics are, at the right time, an effective way to curb bad bacteria in the disease. In some cases, however, it can also mean that the number of beneficial bacteria in the body also decreases, which particularly affects the gastrointestinal tract where the bacterial flora is made up of good lactic acid bacteria. This can lead to some people experiencing stomach upset in connection with an antibiotic treatment, such as loose stools, diarrhea or stomach pain. Research has shown that the normal intestinal flora can be affected up to two years even in short treatments with antibiotics even if no more antibiotics have been taken and therefore it is extra important to be careful with the prescription of antibiotics.
If you have been prescribed an antibiotic regimen, you should complete the regimen, which means you may need to be extra kind to your stomach during the period. Then it can help to get lactic acid bacteria either through the food or via, for example, probiotics, then with as many strains of lactic acid bacteria as possible to strengthen the bacterial flora. You can take probiotics during and even after an antibiotic course, but avoid taking it at the same time when the antibiotic kills bacteria and if you take probiotics at the same time you knock out the good effect.
If you experience prolonged or even severe diarrhea, always discontinue the current treatment and talk to your doctor before returning to taking the antibiotic.
Compliance with antibiotic therapy
Compliance with drug treatment simply means that you follow the doctor’s prescription. The reasons why it is important to continue taking the regimen even if you feel healthy are, among other things:
- Harmful bacteria can remain in the body.
- Harmful bacteria may have become resistant and spread the resistance to other bacteria that survived the treatment.
- The resistant bacteria can be transmitted to another person who then becomes infected.
It is not good to discontinue an antibiotic treatment earlier because even if the disease or symptoms have disappeared they can come back and even worsen. It is also important to be patient as it may take a while before the drug works. If you forget at one time or maybe even take a dose too much, this is rarely a problem, but if you yourself feel unsafe, talk to a doctor or a pharmacist at the pharmacy who can help advise you on how to take your cure correctly.
Failure to recover from antibiotics may be due to any of the following:
- The diagnosis is incorrect – the infection is due to viruses and not bacteria.
- The wrong kind of antibiotic has been used.
- The dose has been too low.
- The treatment period has been too short.
- Not enough antibiotics have been taken up from the gut.
What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotics were a breakthrough in health care when it arrived in the 1930s and have since been increasingly used. While it has been life-saving for millions of people, the increased use has also led to a growing problem, namely antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance means that bacteria have developed a resistance or decreased sensitivity to different types of bacteria, which in turn causes the antibiotic to not bite and they become antibiotic resistant. Common causes of antibiotic resistance are:
- Antibiotics are prescribed when not needed.
- Wrong antibiotic type is printed.
- Misuse of antibiotics.
The risk of antibiotic resistance is that infections that have previously been cured can no longer be treated with antibiotics. Simpler infections become life-threatening, and this is such a big problem that, for example, in USA, a national management group, Strama, has started working for rational antibiotic use and reduced antibiotic resistance. One of the most important ways to prevent antibiotic resistance is to only prescribe antibiotics when needed and then choose the right type and follow the treatment. The body can heal and fight many types of infections even without antibiotics.
It is primarily the physician’s job to ensure that antibiotic resistance does not increase and as a patient one should not be worried about taking antibiotics if the doctor prescribes this. Complete your course, take care of your stomach and talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about your particular antibiotic treatment.