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VA Maryland Health Care System


Health Watch: Fall Winter 2017-2018

Doctor and patient

Take Antibiotics the Right Way

With the cold and flu season upon us, you may ask your health care provider to prescribe an antibiotic to treat what ails you. Your clinician may run tests to look for bacteria that will respond to antibiotics, because not all illnesses are appropriate for this type of medical treatment. For example, antibiotics will not treat infections caused by viruses, like the flu. Powerful antibiotics alleviate infections, but overuse of antibiotics can be unsafe. As a patient, you should be aware of what antibiotics are and how they can affect you.

Antibiotics can cause side effects, which can sometimes be serious. One severe side effect is a form of diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile, which occurs when antibiotics destroy the good germs along with the bad. If you experience diarrhea while on antibiotics, contact your health care provider immediately because the condition must be treated immediately. Patients are at risk for developing this side effect for a few weeks after the prescription for antibiotics is completed.

Another particularly dangerous side effect is the risk of contracting an antibiotic-resistant infection later. These bacteria are more difficult to treat and can lead to disability and death. To help lessen this risk, antibiotics should be taken only as long as prescribed.

When you are prescribed antibiotics, take notice of the following and ask your health care provider if you have any questions:

  • What infection is the antibiotic treating?
  • What are the side effects that might occur with this medication?
  • What is the length of time to take the antibiotic?
  • Is it safe to take the antibiotic with other medications or vitamins that you already take?
  • Should this medication be taken with food?
  • Will you be monitored to know if the infection is gone?
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