This report is not a substitute for medical advice and treatment. Never diagnose or treat yourself or a family member. See your doctor. Use your voice. Ask questions and share prescription concerns, if any, with your physician.
The purpose of this blog post is to reveal the reality of antibiotic overuse and misuse. This writing is to also encourage communication with your doctor when antibiotics are prescribed to you or the family member you advocate/share in health care responsibility.
Recently someone dear to me, “Barbara” was tested for a UTI. Barbara did not have UTI symptoms. Her bladder, however, appeared to be on a nighttime schedule with the inability to urinate during the day. The initial urinalysis revealed bacteria in the urine and her doctor insisted she be put on antibiotics ASAP, that day.
On the surface, following through with the physician’s request may appear as the only and best option for the patient. However, digging dipper, this was not the case. Barbara recently had C-DIFF (C. difficile/C-DIFF is a toxin-producing bacteria that causes antibiotic-associated colitis, Mayo Clinic…Antibiotic Associated Diarrhea) following surgery, which extended her stay at a skilled nursing facility by 3 weeks. She experienced horrific symptoms of both, C-DIFF and the necessary antibiotic treatment. There is a HIGH probability of C-DIFF reoccurring when a patient is prescribed antibiotics, in this case treating a possible UTI. Question to the doctor…“Knowing Barbara had C-DIFF a few months ago, can we wait for the full culture results before considering antibiotics??” It is not uncommon for some bacteria to appear in urine, especially in the population 75 years old+. The doctor agreed, stating, “I think that it’s reasonable to wait until the cultures come back, but it looks like a real infection based on the cell counts.” Three days later the culture results indicate…NO UTI. The doctor emailed…“The final urine cultures are back and surprisingly did not grow out any specific bacteria. So I would not give her the antibiotics. I would continue to monitor her symptoms. I would only recheck her urine if she is having symptoms.” If Barbara had a reoccurrence of C-DIFF, a high risk “serious symptom infection” possibly triggered by taking the prescribed antibiotic, she would have had to leave the comfort and familiarity of assisted living (very contagious). The C-DIFF treatment administered would have required admittance to either a hospital or skilled nursing facility, in contact isolation. Life would not have been pleasant for Barbara or her family, the aftermath of being treated for a UTI she didn’t have.
A key lesson from Barbara’s experience, communicate with your doctor. Express concerns by using your voice and take ownership to know options in order to make wise decisions for you and your family. The following shares antibiotic facts, its impact on the elderly and what you can do nutritionally to be “gut healthy” reducing side effects from antibiotics as well as some non-antibiotic drugs, to help prevent superbugs and antibiotic resistance (CDC: About Antimicrobial Resistance).
Full Culture Results
Whenever possible and with physician agreement, request a full culture before taking prescribed antibiotics.
Antibiotics –How They Work, Classifications, When Administered
Antibiotics are pharmaceutical prescribed medications administered to heal or slow down the growth of bacteria resulting in infections. Click this link for a complete antibiotic guide and their use…Antibiotics Guide, Medically reviewed on Aug 23, 2016 by L. Anderson, PharmD.
Antibiotics are known by these classes: Penicillins, Tetracyclines, Cephalosporins, Quinolones, Lincomycins, Masrolides, Sulfonamides, Glycopeptides, Aminoglycosides, Carbapenems.
Antibiotics are used to treat these top 10 common infections: Acne, bronchitis, Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye), Otitis Media (Ear Infection), Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s), Skin or Soft Tissue Infections, Streptococcal Pharyngitis (Strep Throat), Traveler’s Diarrhea, Upper Respiratory Tract Infection, Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).
Additional details and supporting information can also be found at… Antibiotics: All You Need to Know by Medical News Today, By Christian Nordqvist, Jan. 2017. Article highlights…
- Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, the first natural antibiotic, in 1928.
- Antibiotics cannot fight viral infections.
- Fleming predicted the rise of antibiotic resistance we see today.
- If antibiotics are overused or used incorrectly, there is a risk that the bacteria will become resistant
- Antibiotics either kill bacteria or slow its growth.
- Side effects can include diarrhea and feeling sick.
- In some cases, antibiotics may be given to prevent rather than treat an infection, as might be the case before surgery. This is called ‘prophylactic’ use of antibiotics. They are commonly used before bowel and orthopedic surgery.
Before bacteria can multiply and cause symptoms, the body’s immune system can usually kill them. Our white blood cells attack harmful bacteria and, even if symptoms do occur, our immune system can usually cope and fight off the infection.
Antibiotic Side effects and FDA Warnings
What are common antibiotic side effects?
Common side effects of antibiotics include rash, soft stools, diarrhea, upset stomach, fungal (yeast) infections (like thrush). Contact your doctor immediately if you are experiencing; severe allergic reaction that includes difficulty breathing, facial swelling (lips, tongue, throat, face), severe watery or bloody diarrhea or stomach cramps, vaginal yeast infection with white discharge and severe itching, mouth sores or white patches in mouth or on tongue. Common Side Effects from Antibiotics, and Allergies and Reactions Medically reviewed on Mar 5, 2017 by L. Anderson, PharmD.
Your intestines contain about 100 trillion bacterial cells and up to 2,000 different kinds of bacteria, many of which help protect your body from infection. When you take an antibiotic to treat an infection, these drugs tend to destroy some of the normal, helpful bacteria in addition to the bacteria causing the infection. Without enough healthy bacteria to keep it in check, C. difficile can quickly grow out of control. The antibiotics that most often lead to C. difficile infections include fluoroquinolones, cephalosporins, penicillins and clindamycin. C. Difficile Infection by Mayo Clinic
Which Antibiotics Are Most Associated with Causing Clostridium Difficile Diarrhea? On the basis of the available data, clindamycin should absolutely be avoided among patients who are at risk for C difficile infection, particularly in elderly patients and those with frequent antibiotic exposure or hospitalizations. Given the available data, it’s clear that clindamycin is a well-deserving candidate of its boxed warning specifically for C difficile risk. Box Warning can be read by clicking this LINK.
Clindamycin is prescribed most often to treat medical conditions as listed in …What Conditions Does Clindamycin Hcl treat? Other options that have a reduced risk of triggering C-difficile?
For community-acquired pneumonia, it has been suggested that a tetracycline may be substituted in place of azithromycin (or another macrolide) among elderly patients at higher risk for C difficile infection. In fact, data suggests that tetracyclines may NOT increase risk of C difficile infection at all, with a non-significant odd ratio of 0.9 versus no antibiotic exposure.
In patients hospitalized with severe infections who require anti-Pseudomonal coverage, the available data suggests that penicillins (such as piperacillin/tazobactam) may have a lower risk of C difficile infection versus cephalosporins (such as cefepime) or carbapenems (such as meropenem). While this risk is certainly relevant to the selection of antimicrobials, local resistance patterns should also be considered when selecting an agent.
Knowledge of high-risk and lower-risk antibiotics for C difficile infection is important, particularly in patients who are already at a higher risk for C difficile infection, such as elderly patients. Avoidance of these high-risk antibiotics when other first-line alternatives exist in certain patient populations should be an antimicrobial stewardship intervention for pharmacists to reduce the risk of C difficile infection both in the inpatient and outpatient settings.
Fluoroquinolones are antibiotics that kill or stop the growth of bacteria. While these drugs are effective in treating serious bacterial infections, an FDA safety review found that both oral and injectable fluroquinolones are associated with disabling side effects involving tendons, muscles, joints, nerves and the central nervous system. These side effects can occur hours to weeks after exposure to fluoroquinolones and may potentially be permanent.
Types of Fluoroquinolones that are FDA approved but which fall into this warning include levofloxacin (Levaquin), ciprofloxacin (Cipro), ciprofloxacin extended-release tablets, moxifloxacin (Avelox), ofloxacin and gemifloxacin (Factive). FDA updates warnings for fluoroquinolone antibiotics
Non-Antibiotic Drugs and Similar Antibiotic Side Effects
Antibiotics are known to trigger digestive issues and diarrhea, eliminating both the good and bad bacteria in our guts. There are also prescription non-antibiotic drugs that share similar harsh gut symptoms (as antibiotics) such as anti-diabetics (metformin), proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and atypical antipsychotics (AAPs). Use the hyperlinks to see the listing of medications that fall within each category.
Non-antibiotics with antibiotic effects – Some non-antibiotic drugs have been associated with changes in gut microbiome composition, but the extent of this phenomenon is unknown. Athanasios Typas and colleagues screened more than 1,000 marketed drugs and observed that a quarter of them inhibited the growth of at least one bacterial strain in vitro. Scrutiny of previous human cohort studies showed that human-targeted drugs with anticommensal activity have antibiotic-like side effects in humans. The new data provide a resource for future drug-therapy research. Extensive impact of non-antibiotic drugs on human gut bacteria, Published: 19 March 2018
The Elderly and Antibiotics
UTIs are known to be common among the elderly and often the symptoms are not as visible making it difficult to know when a UTI exists. However, there appears to be a growing problem with over prescribed use of antibiotics especially for UTIs.
Consensus guidelines have been published to assist clinicians with diagnosis and treatment of urinary tract infection; however, a single evidence-based approach to diagnosis of urinary tract infection does not exist. In the absence of a gold standard definition of urinary tract infection that clinicians agree upon, overtreatment with antibiotics for suspected urinary tract infection remains a significant problem, and leads to a variety of negative consequences including the development of multidrug-resistant organisms. Urinary tract infection in older adults, NCBI
The elderly are prone to UTIs and other infections but are they being treated more often than not when an infection is actually not present? Antibiotics do not treat frequent urination nor does this infer a UTI. Antibiotics can cause serious symptoms in elderly, weakening those that are already frail; fever, rash, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headache, tendon ruptures, and nerve damage. Information above about clindamycin specifically refers to the elderly, along with alternative options for infection treatment.
Elderly have an increased risk to antibiotic resistant bacteria, superbugs.
Antibiotics may help “drug-resistant” bacteria grow, causing illnesses that are harder to cure and more costly to treat. Your doctor may have to try several antibiotics for treatment. This increases the risk of complications. The resistant bacteria can also be highly contagious/passed on to caregivers, family members and others. Antibiotics for urinary tract infections in older people When you need them—and when you don’t
A study conducted by The Ottawa Hospital Regional Geriatric Program of Eastern Ontario Geriatric Refresher Day, Rosemary Zvor, Antimicrobial Pharmacy Specialist, (Research on Elder infections with charts zvonar_use_of_antibiotics) found an increase exposure within the healthcare system, antimicrobials, along with decreased immune system and functional status resulting in poor hygiene, as well as the increase use of invasive devices and close contact with other residents and medical staff that could be carriers.
Some antibiotics carry specific risks to the elderly. The article Adverse effects of Antibiotics in the Geriatric Patient Population lists precautions to consider, which you might share the elderly patient’s physician, of whom you advocate.
“Elderly patients have several unique issues related to antibiotic therapy. In addition to age-associated physiological changes and drug-drug interactions, adverse drug reactions are also a noteworthy concern specific to this population.
- Aminoglycosides-renal and auditory toxicity
- Trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole-induced hyperkalemia and blood dyscrasias
- Fluoroquinolone-related seizures and QT prolongation
- Doxycycline-related esophageal ulcerations & strictures
- Acute liver injury secondary to prolonged amoxicillin/clavulanate therapy”
Antibiotics – Impact On Brain Function
This article, Link Between Antibiotics and Delirium Strengthened by Tim Newman, February 18, 2016, Medical News Today, explores an interesting discovery that “antibiotics are known to cause neurological issues in some cases, but the interaction has not attracted much study in the past.” Among the neurologic issues is delirium, which can include hallucinations, agitation and confusion, especially among the elderly. Since infection and antibiotics both can trigger delirium, more work and research is needed to measure and understand this relationship but something to discuss with physicians. Delirium can increase the risk of death in critical care cases.
“The antibiotics react not only against the bacteria but also have ‘off-target’ effects by interfering with normal signaling within the brain. Different antibiotics affect the brain differently, hence causing varying patterns of toxicity.”
“Dr. Shamik Bhattacharyya, of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, conducted a retrospective review using historical patient data. He found that links between antibiotics and delirium might be stronger than previously thought.”
Cranberry Supplements – Heal Or Prevent UTIs?
The Mayo clinic gives good advice about cranberry and UTI prevention in the article… Urinary Tract Infection (UTI),
“Many people drink cranberry juice to prevent UTIs. There’s some indication that cranberry products, in either juice or tablet form, may have infection-fighting properties. Researchers continue to study the ability of cranberry juice to prevent UTIs, but results are not conclusive. If you enjoy drinking cranberry juice and feel it helps you prevent UTIs, there’s little harm in it, but watch the calories. For most people, drinking cranberry juice is safe, but some people report an upset stomach or diarrhea. However, don’t drink cranberry juice if you’re taking blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin.”
Good Gut Health! Building a good gut…prebiotics and probiotic rich foods.
Be proactive and select foods that are high in probiotics and prebiotics for good gut health. The more good bacteria in your gut the less chance of bad bacteria that can cause irritating digestive system issues or trigger uncomfortable symptoms often experienced with autoimmune disorders such as Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis as well as irritable bowel syndrome. Can you take a probiotic supplement? Yes. Supplements, however, are not FDA regulated and you can’t be certain that what is listed on the label is actually in the capsule. I choose to follow wise advice given many years ago when I attend a Celiac Disease conference led by Dr. Peter Green. He shared that the body better absorbs whole foods rich in vitamins, minerals and in this case probiotics and prebiotics rather than taking capsules. If you eat right and skip processed foods, you won’t need to spend the extra dollars on supplements. As we get older and appetites wane, supplements may be needed and this is a conversation reserved to take place with your doctor or a clinical certified nutritionist. Also, probiotic dietary supplements may not be safe, as noted in What are Probiotics?, which may pose risks if you…
- Get infections often
- Have a weakened immune system
- Are allergic or sensitive to the sources of the probiotics (dairy, for example)
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics, simply put, are food for probiotics. “They’re necessary in order for the good flora to flourish,” says Kristi King, R.D., a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 6 Foods That Are Good for Gut Health
Prebiotics encourage the growth of good and healthy bacteria in your gut. Prebiotic foods include fruits and vegetables that are loaded with complex carbohydrates, fiber and resistant starch that pass through the digestive system, which feed good bacteria and other micorbes. Prebiotic foods include: legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, navy beans; raspberries and blackberries; barley, bran and bulgar (being gluten free I search for whole grain gluten-free breads). 6 Foods That Are Good for Gut Health, Consumer Reports
The lining of your gut, like every surface of your body, is covered in microscopic creatures, mostly bacteria. These organisms create a micro-ecosystem called the microbiome. And though we don’t really notice it’s there, it plays an oversized role in your health and can even affect your mood and behavior. Prebiotics, probiotics and your health
Vegetables offer the best impact for your gut when uncooked to preserve fiber. Cooking transforms the fiber, lowering fiber content. Prebiotic Food List
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live culture bacteria which are found in foods or supplements that promote microorganisms for our guts known to benefit our health, body and brain. Probiotics could also benefit immune function and suggested as an aid for digestive issues, reducing the risk of diarrhea with antibiotic use, lessens risk of C-DIFF infection, and aids in food poisoning and stomach virus. Yogurt, such as non-flavored Greek yogurt, is a great source of probiotics and contains on average per serving 100 million probiotics. Simple… eat a serving of yogurt per day! Some yogurts are marked specifically to contain probiotics, such as Activa. Watch sugar levels in fruit flavored yogurts. Other fermented food products known to contain probiotics; kefer, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, kombucha, pickles, traditional buttermilk, nato and certain cheeses. Click Probiotic Food List for information on probiotic rich foods. Some fermented foods do have gluten, so for GF readers…read the labels.
NOTE: Kombucha bottles are not always well labeled to instruct recommended use, at least on the bottle I purchased. Internet checking I’ve seen serving recommendations at 4 oz and not to be consumed daily. The health benefits claimed have not been proven. Many brands contain alcohol and caffeine since it is fermented tea, therefore not for CHILDREN. There have been resulting health issues reported, such as liver damage, and the recommendation is to purchase from reputable sources and pass on homemade Kombucha. Not all Kombucha is created equal so if specifically looking for the benefits of probiotic and live cultures, look for labels with these ingredients noted. Some Kombucha can be high in sugar or use alternative sweeteners such as stevia. Check the label and choose those low in natural sugar. This video by Dr. Oz that aired Feb 2018 is a great resource about Kombucha in a comparison study to other food products rich in probiotics, titled, The Hype Behind Probiotics and Gut Foods. Another good resource…What is kombucha tea? Does it have any health benefits? Mayo Clinic, Answers from Brent A. Bauer, M.D.
Antibiotics rank as one of the greatest discoveries of our time, healing bacterial infections and saving lives. Fast forward 90 years and we are the generation experiencing repercussions of antibiotic overuse and misuse, especially within the elder populous leading to severe side effects, life threatening antibiotic resistant bacteria and superbugs. Failing to complete prescribed antibiotics and its dose recommendation, taking the wrong antibiotics for the wrong infection, borrowing another’s medication when feeling ill, or being prescribed antibiotics when an infection doesn’t exist, can lead to unwelcomed side affects and serious health issues. What can you do? Prepare now and be gut healthy choosing foods naturally rich in prebiotics and probiotics. Communicate prescription concerns with your healthcare provider and explore alternative options when possible. Use your voice and be an advocate for elderly family members. Antibiotic drugs can still be effective and the preferred drug to treat bacterial infections. The responsibility lies with you to know the facts, use your voice, and be proactive by feeding your gut well!
- C. difficile/C-DIFF is a toxin-producing bacteria that causes antibiotic-associated colitis, Mayo Clinic…Antibiotic Associated Diarrhea
- CDC: About Antimicrobial Resistance
- Antibiotics Guide, Medically reviewed on Aug 23, 2016 by L. Anderson, PharmD.
- Antibiotics: All You Need to Know by Medical News Today, By Christian Nordqvist, Jan. 2017.
- Common Side Effects from Antibiotics, and Allergies and Reactions Medically reviewed on Mar 5, 2017 by L. Anderson, PharmD.
- C. Difficile Infection by Mayo Clinic
- Which Antibiotics Are Most Associated with Causing Clostridium Difficile Diarrhea? March 2017, Pharmacy Times
- What Conditions Does Clindamycin Hcl treat? Web MD
- FDA updates warnings for fluoroquinolone antibiotics, July 2016, FDA
- Extensive impact of non-antibiotic drugs on human gut bacteria, March 2018, Nature International Journal of Science
- Urinary tract infection in older adults, October 2013, NCBI
- Antibiotics for urinary tract infections in older people When you need them—and when you don’t, Consumer Reports and American Geriatric Society, 2017
- Challenges in the Use of Antibiotics in the Elderly by Zvonar, Rosemary Zvonar
Antimicrobial Pharmacy Specialist, The Ottawa Hospital
- Adverse effects of Antibiotics in the Geriatric Patient Population, August 2013, LECOM
- Link Between Antibiotics and Delirium Strengthened by Tim Newman, February 18, 2016, Medical News Today
- Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), Mayo Clinic
- What are Probiotics? Mayo Clinic
- 6 Foods That Are Good for Gut Health, September 2017, Consumer Reports
- Prebiotics, probiotics and your health, Mayo Clinic
- Prebiotic Food List, by Probiotics and Fermented Foods
- The Hype Behind Probiotics and Gut Foods, February 2018, Dr. Oz
- What is kombucha tea? Does it have any health benefits? Mayo Clinic, Answers from Brent A. Bauer, M.D.,
- Bacteria Resistant Super Bug – C-DIFF (Clostridium difficile: From Obscurity to Superbug by NCBI )