1 Out of 4 Antibiotic Prescriptions Are Useless

Physicians often prescribe antibiotics when they’re unnecessary, and that practice could backfire.


When it comes to antibiotics, too many doctors are using the nuclear option.

That is, doctors are overprescribing medications that kill a wide range of bacteria — both good and bad ones — instead of pills that target specific kinds of bacteria, The Wall Street Journal says. Penicillin, amoxicillin and cephalexin are examples of antibiotics that target fewer bacteria, while ciprofloxacin and levofloxacin are sometimes called “the big guns.”

On top of that, two recent studies found that doctors prescribe antibiotics that aren’t necessary 25 percent of time, such as with viral infections, the WSJ says.

It’s more convenient to prescribe stronger antibiotics than to order tests to figure out which bacteria is the culprit and then wait for the results to select a better-targeted antibiotic. Few patients and physicians want to wait, the WSJ says.

But patients should question doctors about the use and specific choice of antibiotics. Here are some conditions for which the use of antibiotics may not make sense, the Journal says:

  • Most bronchitis.
  • Colds.
  • Flu.
  • Most coughs, ear infections and sore throats.

The result of overprescribing antibiotics is that the drugs become less effective. Instead of fixing a problem, they’re potentially creating a new one by spurring antibiotic-resistant infections, the Journal says. And in the case of “big gun” antibiotics, which are prescribed 60 percent of the time overall and half the time for children, they’re killing off good bacteria that help the body digest food and produce vitamins.

Stacy Johnson

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