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Antibiotics over prescribed for common health conditions

By now we have all heard the term “superbugs,” which are is a fancy term for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Doctors have concluded that much of the problem can be attributed to the wide over prescription of antibiotics. According to new research from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston by Dr. Michael L. Barnett, lead author, and Dr. Jeffrey A. Linder, senior author, these doctors have concluded that the over prescription of medications is far more common than many experts had hoped.

Why is over prescribing antibiotics dangerous?

According to Linder, side effects for many antibiotics can be mild or severe and can include diarrhea and vaginitis in women. According to Linder, “If you have a viral infection for which the antibiotics are not going to help, and you’re putting a chemical in your body that has a very real chance of hurting you.”

Linder also notes that for many conditions using antibiotics may allow the condition to mutate, making you more resistant to antibiotics in the future. According to reports published by CNN, Linder also noted, “It's not possible to say any particular person is going to end up with an infection that's resistant to antibiotics because of taking these drugs. But science has shown that community levels of antibiotic use are related to rates of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

Common reasons medications are prescribed

Who hasn’t gone to the doctor with a sore throat? We all want a fast solution, especially if we are in severe pain. In fact, according to a research letter published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, only 10% of patients who go the doctor for a sore throat actually have strep, which does respond to antibiotics, but it’s not unusual for doctors to give patients antibiotics for a sore throat up to 60% of the time.

This estimate was derived from a study from Linder and Barnett. In the study they researched data from 1997 to 2010 for more than 8,000 sore throat visits. The pair eliminated patients who had other throat injuries or immune disorders or other infectious diseases. Based on their research, Barnett and Linder concluded that “physicians have been prescribing antibiotics in about 60% of sore throat visits since around 2000.” Common antibiotics which were prescribed to the patients included penicillin and azithromycin.

Over prescribing antibiotics at what cost?

Over prescribing medication is not just dangerous, it can also be costly. According to the study, the unnecessary prescribing of medication for sore throats from 1997-2010 could conservatively be $500 million, and that figure does not include the cost of treating the side effects.

And it’s not just sore throats which are over treated. Researchers also noted that “there were alarming trends regarding antibiotic overprescribing for acute bronchitis using nationally representative surveys.” Researchers also noted that this type of treatment may be even more detrimental than over prescribing antibiotics for sore throats because the treatment does not help the condition.

Why do doctors do it?

The main reason doctors overprescribe antibiotics seems to be because of patients demand it. Patients want solutions, especially if they are paying hundreds of dollars to see a doctor. Other doctors may simply be following old patterns or habits.

Experts recommend changing the dialogue between the patient and the doctor. And this dialogue may start with the patient acknowledging that they understand there may not be a quick solution for their condition, but they are more interested in the right treatment.
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