Why Do I Need to Finish My Antibiotics If I Feel Better?

Always take all of your antibiotics. Mark Sykes/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

If you have ever taken antibiotics, you should have been told to take them exactly as prescribed. That means taking them for as long as your doctor told you to and the amount that you were told as well. It's not difficult. But many people don't follow these instructions. Far too many people stop taking their antibiotics as soon as they start to feel better. Or they don't take them as often as they should because they want to "save them for later".


These practices are bad for you and bad for everyone else because they are a huge contributor to antibiotic resistance

What Happens When You Stop Too Soon

When you stop taking your antibiotics before you should, you take the chance that the bacteria are not completely killed off. Some of them may survive and develop the ability to resist the antibiotics you were taking. 

These bacteria may then continue to grow and reinfect you, causing an illness that is worse and harder to treat than the one before. Even if they don't come back and make you sick again, they can multiply or transmit their drug-resistance to other bacteria. You could unknowingly spread these bacteria (even if you aren't sick), making other people in your community sick with a difficult to treat infection.

Why Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Are Bad

When bacteria develop the ability to resist antibiotics, they cause more serious infections and require stronger antibiotics to kill them.

The most well known example of how bacteria can develop resistance is the increase in methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium that often causes skin infections - commonly called "staph infections". When a person is infected with MRSA, different antibiotics are needed to treat the infection and serious illness or even death are more likely.

The stronger antibiotics have significant side effects and may need to be taken longer to effectively treat the infection. 

The rise in MRSA and other types of antibiotic resistant bacteria is truly a threat to us all. There's a reason the CDC calls antibiotic resistance "one of the world's most pressing public health problems". 

What You Can Do

If it isn't clear yet, you should always take all of your antibiotics as prescribed. That means taking them when you should, the amount you should and for as long as you should. Never give your antibiotics to someone else and never take antibiotics that weren't prescribed to you. Don't stop taking them as soon as you feel better and don't take less than you are supposed to. 

It's also important not to push for antibiotics if they aren't really necessary. They won't make you any better if you have a cold, the flu or another virus. Antibiotics only kill bacteria and only help with bacterial infections


"The Danger of Antibiotic Overuse". KidsHealth Jan 15. The Nemours Foundation. 30 Jul 15. 

"Antibiotic Resistance Questions and Answers". Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work 17 Apr 15. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. 30 Jul 15. 

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