New debate is raging in the medical community over a study that challenges a longtime staple of health advice. The new study in the British Medical Journal concludes that it isn't always necessary to continue taking prescribed antibiotics until they are finished, and instead sometimes advisable for patients to stop taking medications as soon as they feel better. The researchers say there is no solid evidence to support the long-held belief that stopping antibiotics early can cause the body to grow more resistant to them. The study also concludes that stopping some medications faster can cut the overall use of antibiotics, which many experts believe are now over-prescribed.
But the study is far from settled science. Even its authors admit that for some diseases, like tuberculosis, it is necessary to complete the entire course of antibiotics. Other members of the medical community are very skeptical of the study's findings. Among them, Dr. Mia Finkelston with the telehealth service American Well. She warns against stopping medication simply because you "feel better." "You might feel better, but you're on that antibiotic to kill off the bacteria that are causing the problem, whether it be a sinus infection, strep throat, or pneumonia."
Dr. Finkelston tells KTRH that just because your symptoms go away, that doesn't mean the virus is gone. "If you stop taking the antibiotic before finishing the full prescription, you are at risk of only killing off part of the bacteria," she says. "That leaves the remaining bacteria there to multiply and then cause the problem all over again, at which point the antibiotic may not even be useful."
Regardless of which side of this debate they're on, the experts who conducted the British study and the study's critics agree that each virus, disease, drug, and patient is unique, so there is no universal rule when it comes to taking medications. "Do yourself a favor, and take your antibiotics for as long or as short as your doctor recommends," says Dr. Finkelston.