Why it’s important to finish antibiotics


January 26, 2017

Feeling better is no reason to stop taking prescribed antibiotics. Here’s what can go wrong.


Antibiotics are prescribed to treat infections.  Unfortunately, not everyone finishes theirs like they should. Patients and parents have many reasons why they think they should stop their antibiotics. These might be:

  • My child or I feel better;
  • This medicine tastes bad;
  • A side effect (like nausea) is not pleasant;
  • I forgot where I put my medicine;
  • I can’t remember to take it three or four times a day;
  • I’d like to keep a stash for later, just in case we get sick again.

Here’s why you should ALWAYS finish your antibiotics:

1. Antibiotic resistance

When you don’t finish your antibiotic, those “bugs” still left in your body can develop resistance to that antibiotic. If so, you may get sick again and it will be even harder to treat because that antibiotic may not work as well. You could potentially spread this to others as well.

2. Antibiotic effectiveness

  • Antibiotics are prescribed for specific time periods and amounts because that is what we know works best to kill off the infections. There are some infections that could cause further problems if not treated right the first time.
  • You should not keep an antibiotic around “just in case” because you may not diagnose yourself correctly and may treat a virus with an antibiotic or use the wrong antibiotic — neither of which is good. Plus, you won’t have a full course to treat it properly (see antibiotic resistance above).

So what can you do to help assure you finish the antibiotic?

  • If it tastes bad, ask for flavorings from your pharmacist. Sometimes drinking orange juice or sucking on a chocolate candy like a Hershey’s Kiss can help with bitter-tasting medicines; ask your pharmacist if this is OK with the particular antibiotic.
  • If you experience an unpleasant side effect, ask your doctor if something else might be better. Ask your pharmacist if taking it right after you eat will help and is OK with your medication. If diarrhea is a concern, ask your doctor if you should take probiotics, which may help.
  • If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, ask for one that is dosed once or twice per day.
  • Set a reminder on your smartphone or in a place you see often to help you remember to take your medicine.

This post was written by Alison G. Grisso, a pediatric clinical pharmacist at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt working primarily with the Cystic Fibrosis Team and serving as residency program director for the 1st- and 2nd-year Pediatric Pharmacy Residents. 




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