Antibiotics are medications used to treat – and, in some cases, prevent – bacterial infections.
However, antibiotics often have no benefit for many other types of infection. Using them unnecessarily would only increase the risk of antibiotic resistance, so they are not routinely used.
Read more about when antibiotics are used.
Take antibiotics as directed on the packet or the patient information leaflet that comes with the medicine, or as instructed by your GP or pharmacist.
Doses of antibiotics can be provided in several ways:
It's essential to finish taking a prescribed course of antibiotics, even if you feel better, unless a healthcare professional tells you otherwise. If you stop taking an antibiotic part way through a course, the bacteria can become resistant to the antibiotic.
If you forget to take a dose of your antibiotics, take that dose as soon as you remember and then continue to take your course of antibiotics as normal.
However, if it is almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Do not take a double dose to make up for a missed one.
There is an increased risk of side effects if you have to take two doses closer together than normal.
Accidentally taking one extra dose of your antibiotic is unlikely to cause you any serious harm.
However, it will increase your chances of experiencing side effects such as pain in your stomach, diarrhoea, and feeling or being sick.
If you accidentally take more than one extra dose of your antibiotic, are worried or experiencing severe side effects, speak to your GP or call NHS 111 as soon as possible.
There are now hundreds of different types of antibiotics, but most of them can be broadly classified into six groups. These are outlined below.
As with any medication, antibiotics can cause side effects. Most antibiotics don't cause problems for people who take them if they're used properly, and serious side effects are rare.
The most common side effects of antibiotics include:
Around 1 person in 15 has an allergic reaction to antibiotics, especially penicillin and cephalosporins. In very rare cases, this can lead to a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), which is a medical emergency.
Read more about the side effects of antibiotics.
Some antibiotics are not suitable for people with certain medical conditions, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. You should only ever take antibiotics prescribed for you – never "borrow" them from a friend or family member.
Some antibiotics can also react unpredictably with other medications, such as the oral contraceptive pill and alcohol. It is therefore important to read the information leaflet that comes with your medication carefully.
Read more information about:
Both the NHS and health organisations across the world are trying to reduce the use of antibiotics, especially for conditions that are not serious.
This is to try to combat the problem of antibiotic resistance, which is when a strain of bacteria no longer responds to treatment with one or more types of antibiotics.
Antibiotic resistance can occur in several ways. Strains of bacteria can change (mutate) and, over time, become resistant to a specific antibiotic. The chance of this increases if a person does not finish the course of antibiotics they have been prescribed, as some bacteria may be left to develop resistance.
Antibiotics can also destroy many of the harmless strains of bacteria that live in and on the body. This allows resistant bacteria to multiply quickly and replace them.
The overuse of antibiotics in recent years has played a major part in antibiotic resistance. This includes using antibiotics to treat minor conditions that would have got better anyway.
It has led to the emergence of "superbugs". These are strains of bacteria that have developed resistance to many different types of antibiotics. They include:
These types of infections can be serious and challenging to treat, and are becoming an increasing cause of disability and death across the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there are around 170,000 deaths related to MDR-TB each year.
The biggest worry is new strains of bacteria may emerge that cannot be effectively treated by any existing antibiotics.
Carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae are one such emerging group of bacteria, with several types. These bacteria are widespread in some parts of the world, including parts of Europe, and are beginning to be seen in the UK.
Read more about how you can help prevent the progression of antibiotic resistance.
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