Do I Have to Finish my Antibiotics Even if I Feel Better?

Published: March 01, 2022
Gabrielle Pierce
By Gabrielle Pierce, PharmD, MBA

So, you were feeling sick and decided to go to your doctor. Your doctor did an exam, asked you a series of questions about how you were feeling, and at the end of the appointment, wrote you a prescription to take to your pharmacy. Your doctor might have prescribed an antibiotic depending on what illness you had.

 

What is an antibiotic?

An antibiotic is a type of medication used to treat an infection caused by bacteria. Different antibiotics are used to treat different kinds of infections. Some common ways that bacteria may enter your body include through broken skin, breathing it in, eating food or drinking water that is contaminated, or coming into contact with eyes, nose, or mouth. Some antibiotics work by killing the bacteria that is causing you to be sick; other antibiotics work by stopping the bacteria from growing or spreading further in your body.

 

How does my doctor select an antibiotic for me?

When your doctor writes a prescription for an antibiotic, there are many factors that go into deciding which antibiotic will help treat your specific illness best, and how many days of treatment are needed to fully cure the infection. This decision is based on expert guidelines, years of research, and the expertise of your doctor. The doctor will consider your symptoms and other factors specific to you, such as age, weight, and other medications that you may be taking. Your pharmacist also reviews your prescription carefully once it has been sent to the pharmacy to be sure that the dose is correct and that the antibiotic does not interact with any of your other medicines.

 

If I feel better, do I really have to finish my antibiotic?

Yes! Sometimes, you may start feeling better after just a few days of taking your antibiotic. It is very common to start having fewer symptoms before the infection is fully gone from your body. Even if you are not feeling sick, the bacteria may still be present in your body, and you could start feeling sick again if you stop your antibiotic early.

Another problem that may occur if you stop your antibiotic earlier than prescribed is antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance means that the bacteria learn how to get around the medicine, and the medicine no longer works as well to treat the bacteria. This means that if you get sick again in the future, taking that antibiotic may not work for you, and may not help you to get better. Sometimes in the hospital, pharmacists work with doctors to choose the best antibiotics and treatment time to try to prevent antibiotic resistance from developing.

 

Can I keep leftover antibiotics that I do not take?

It is important not to stash “leftover” antibiotics that you do not take, and do not save them for future use. You should always take all of your antibiotics as prescribed. Antibiotics should only be taken when prescribed by a doctor for a specific illness and should never be taken without speaking to your doctor or pharmacist – even if you feel sick in the future and think you may have the same illness!

If you have old antibiotics at home, talk to your pharmacist about the best ways to dispose of them. There are always places in your community where you can take old medicines to safely get rid of them, or your pharmacist can provide information about a “Drug Take Back Day” if one is upcoming near you.

 

Summary

Once you start taking an antibiotic, it is important to take it exactly as prescribed and continue taking it until it is all gone or until told to stop by your doctor. Do not keep leftover antibiotics and save them for future use. Antibiotics should only be taken if they have been prescribed by your doctor. Talk to your pharmacist if you have questions about the smart use of antibiotics.

 

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