Why Patients Should Learn to Resist Asking for Antibiotics

Why Patients Should Learn to Resist Asking for Antibiotics


1A patient of mine came in the other day sneezing and wheezing. Hoping to put all the sniffling and snuffling to an end, she begged me for an antibiotic.

When I told her I wouldn’t write the prescription, she was annoyed. As a doctor, shouldn’t I do everything in my power to help her feel better, she wanted to know. Why withhold a pill that could relieve her suffering?

This is a pretty common exchange in doctors’ offices all over the country.  And it’s creating a worldwide health crisis.

Antibiotics are one of the most important class of drugs in existence, having saved millions of lives in the century or so since they’ve been in use. However, thanks to overuse and abuse, the bacteria they are supposed to kill are starting to build up a resistance. There are already some very potent and dangerous infections that are impervious to nearly every antibiotic we doctors have in our arsenal.

Antibiotic resistance has led to a rise of so called “superbugs” like MRSA which are becoming epidemic in of all places, hospitals. Now I worry about the patients I admit, especially if they are old and frail. They are sometimes at greater risk for infection caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria than their original illness.

Thanks to antibiotic resistance, a host of other real challenges has been created for the medical community as well. For example, there are certain blood infections and pneumonia that have become harder to fight due to their growing antibiotic immunity. Some strains of tuberculosis are able to fend off virtually every drug used to treat them. And organ transplants are in jeopardy because there are fewer drugs able to suppress the immune system during surgery and recovery. 

Despite all the warnings about antibiotic resistance from groups such as the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, patients still come in asking, begging and sometimes demanding we doctors dispense them. Too often doctors acquiesce. Nine out of 10 doctors feel under pressure to dispense an antibiotic when a patient asks, one survey found; another survey reveals that 97 percent of patients who request an antibiotic are written a prescription.

Here is the basic rule of thumb: Don’t ask your doctor for an antibiotic.

Antibiotics only fight bacterial infections. They don’t work against viruses. Most colds, flu and sore throats are caused by viruses. So if you have symptoms from any of these maladies, they won’t do you any good.

Even if your doctor determines you have an infection caused by a bacterium, rest and plenty of fluids is typically the best option. Most infections get better on their own. Dispensing an antibiotic as a “just in case” cure is unnecessary. It’s best to go without an antibiotic whenever you can.

What’s your experience? Have you ever asked your doctor for an antibiotic? Have you ever been refused a prescription? Follow me at @GustavoFerrerMD and tweet me your thoughts or comment below.

Dr. Ferrer has been my colleague for many years and his wealth of knowledge continues to impress me. He always strives to learn more and stay on the cutting edge in his field.”

Dr. Jeremy Robertson

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