Antibiotics are medicines that help prevent infections that are caused by bacteria. Antibiotics destroy the bacteria and prevent them from replicating themselves or reproducing. In short, any drug that kills germs in your body is an antibiotic.
Before the invention of antibiotics, scores of people became victims of infections and diseases, resulting in numerous fatalities. But, after the invention of antibiotics in the 1940s, life expectancy increased, surgeries became safer, and people survived deadly infections.
However, over the past couple of decades, overprescribing of antibiotics has become a growing problem in primary care, where viruses cause most of the infections. Almost 90 percent of all antibiotic prescriptions are issued by general practitioners, and respiratory tract infections are the most common reason for prescribing.1
Many countries overuse antibiotics, particularly in hospitals. In animal and fish farming, antibiotics are used as a substitute for good hygiene, with little understanding of how this might adversely impact the health of humans.2 This has resulted in many side-effects and a major problem called antibiotic resistance. So, in today’s context, avoiding overuse of antibiotics and antimicrobial agents can cave your life!
Why Do We Need Antibiotics?
Antibiotics are essential to treat sick people and animals. They have not only saved people’s lives, but have also played a crucial role in achieving major advances in medicine and surgery. Antibiotics are used before surgeries to allow doctors to access internal organs and other areas of the body. They have also increased life expectancy by changing the outcome of bacterial infections.3
But, it must be kept in mind that only bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics. The common cold, flu, most coughs, stomach flu, some bronchitis infections, and most sore throat are all caused by viruses and antibiotics cannot treat them. For this, physicians generally prescribe antiviral drugs.
Common Side-Effects Of Antibiotics
Our body contains trillions of bacteria, most of which are beneficial for our well-being. The human gut alone contains on average 40,000 bacterial species.4 But, some types and strains of bacteria cause infections and illness and must be eliminated from the body.
Using antibiotics wipes out both good and bad bacteria, which causes an imbalance in your system. Antibiotics often affect your digestive system while they’re treating an infection. Some common side-effects include,
- Bloating or indigestion
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
Risks Associated With Overuse Of Antibiotics
- Increase of antimicrobial resistance
- Possibility of more severe diseases
- Increase in the duration of disease
- Increased risk of complications
- Higher mortality rate
- Raised healthcare costs
- Increased risk of adverse effects, some being life-threatening
- Increase of re-attendance due to infectious diseases
- Increased medicalization of self-limiting infectious conditions
What Is Antibiotic Resistance?
Antibiotics are essential and can be life-saving when used carefully and safely. But, research shows that almost half of the antibiotics prescribed to us are completely unnecessary and lead to more complications.
Overuse has led to antibacterial resistance, where bacteria learn to adapt to the antibiotics over time and turn into “super bacteria” or “superbugs.” They transform themselves and prevent the antibiotics from harming them or making the products less effective.
Such superbugs pose an even greater threat as science has not yet developed medicines to destroy them. Since most bacteria, viruses, and other microbes multiply rapidly, they can quickly evolve and develop resistance to antimicrobial drugs. Overusing or misusing antimicrobial drugs can make resistance develop even faster.5
Effects Of Antibiotic Overuse
Antibiotics have an adverse effect on the gut microbiome by negatively altering its condition, diversity, and function. It often leads to poor metabolism and absorption of vitamins by the body. It has the potential to increase the risk of infections and can lead to the overgrowth of yeast and harmful bacteria. But, most importantly, overuse causes antibiotic resistance, which results in,
- Low production of antibiotics as they become ineffective
- Increased risk of infection during surgeries and among stroke patients, people requiring pumps for diabetes and those undergoing dialysis
- Preventing future surgical procedures as antibiotics are administered before many operations to prevent infection
- Reduced protection for compromised immune systems such as with cancer, AIDS, premature babies and transplant recipients
- Higher treatment costs due to reduced effectiveness
What Causes Antibiotic Resistance?
The antibiotic resistance crisis has been attributed to the overuse and misuse of antibiotic medications, as well as a lack of new drug development by the pharmaceutical industry because of reduced economic incentives and challenging regulatory requirements.6
It is estimated that many millions of metric tons of antibiotic compounds have been released into the biosphere over the last 50 years. Antimicrobial agents are indiscriminately being introduced into our environment, which makes even the deadly bacteria immune to these drugs. Some alternative uses of antimicrobial agents include,
- Growth promotion or prophylactic (intended to prevent disease) use in animals
- Therapeutic or prophylactic use in humans
- Therapeutic or prophylactic use in aquaculture
- Therapeutic or prophylactic use in household pets
- Pest control or cloning for plants and agriculture
- Use as biocides in toiletries, in hand care and household cleaning products
- Culture sterility, cloning, and selection in research and industry
However, it should be noted that therapeutic use of antibacterial agents in humans accounts for less than half of all applications of antibiotics produced commercially.
How To Avoid Overuse Of Antibiotics?
Practicing appropriate hygiene and consuming antibiotics only when they’re absolutely necessary is crucial to minimize the chances of antibiotic resistance. Patients must be encouraged to safely self-manage minor infections, reducing dependency on antimicrobials.
As a society, we must understand that antibiotics are fundamental to how we practice modern medicine.7 Overuse of antibacterial products must be avoided as they tend to wipe out even the beneficial bacteria. Your physician can limit the prescription of antibiotics if they are not really needed.
|↑1||Llor, Carl, and Lars Bjerrum. “Antimicrobial resistance: risk associated with antibiotic overuse and initiatives to reduce the problem.” Therapeutic advances in drug safety 5, no. 6 (2014): 229-241.|
|↑2, ↑4||Frank, Daniel N., and Norman R. Pace. “Gastrointestinal microbiology enters the metagenomics era.” Current opinion in gastroenterology 24, no. 1 (2008): 4-10.|
|↑3, ↑6||Ventola, C. Lee. “The antibiotic resistance crisis: part 1: causes and threats.” Pharmacy and Therapeutics 40, no. 4 (2015): 277.|
|↑5||Antimicrobial (Drug) Resistance. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 2016.|
|↑7||Shallcross, Laura J., and Dame Sally C. Davies. “Antibiotic overuse: a key driver of antimicrobial resistance.” (2014): 604-605.|