What Side Effects Can You Expect On A Long-Term Course Of Antibiotics?

Antibiotics are known for their ability to kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria. However, they are still ineffective against viral infections, such as the common cold or flu, say the experts at Medical News Today. Since the discovery of penicillin in 1928, antibiotics have revolutionized how we treat infectious diseases and have played a critical role in improving public health. Before antibiotics were discovered, many bacterial infections were untreatable and could lead to serious complications or even death. For example, meningitis in children had a death rate of 90% before antibiotics, per HealthyChildren.org.

These wonder drugs can treat a variety of conditions, including urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, skin infections, and ear infections, according to the experts at the National Health Service (NHS). They also help prevent infections in certain situations, such as before surgery. Unfortunately, overuse and misuse of antibiotics have led to various side effects, some of which we have listed below.

Antibiotic resistance

The long-term use of antibiotics can have a variety of potential side effects, some of which may be more severe than others. One of the most significant effects is the development of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria exposed to antibiotics for an extended period develop ways to evade or overcome the effects of the drug, says WebMD. As a result, the antibiotics become less effective in killing or inhibiting the growth of bacteria, and infections become more difficult to treat. This can result in more severe illness and even death. In fact, the United States alone has approximately 2.8 million cases of antibiotic resistance yearly, according to a 2021 study published in the journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases.

To help combat antibiotic resistance, it's important to use antibiotics judiciously and only when necessary. In the United States, 28% of antibiotics prescribed yearly are unnecessary, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So it's best to only use antibiotics for the correct duration and at the appropriate dose, as your doctor prescribes.

Disruption of the body's microbiome

Another potential side effect of long-term antibiotic use is the disruption of the body's natural microbiome. Antibiotics can kill off harmful and beneficial bacteria in the gut, but at the same time, that could lead to digestive issues, such as diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain. The overuse of antibiotics can also result in an overgrowth of harmful bacteria like Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), which can be hard to treat, says the Cleveland Clinic.

In addition, long-term antibiotic use can increase the risk of developing fungal infections such as candidiasis, explains Healthline. This is because antibiotics can disrupt the natural balance of microorganisms in the body, making it easier for harmful pathogens to take hold.

While long-term antibiotic use can have potential side effects, they are certainly vital for treating bacterial infections and can be life-saving in certain situations. It's always best to follow your doctor's instructions, including taking the full course of medication as prescribed and not stopping early, even if you start to feel better.