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Medical advice telling patients to complete antibiotics course is wrong, study says

  • Traditionally patients have been told they must finish a prescribed course of antibiotics.
  • However, research published Wednesday by Professor Martin Llewelyn, from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, and a team of experts argued it could be time to rethink this widespread advice.

Doctors should reconsider telling patients to complete a prescribed course of antibiotics because there is not enough evidence to suggest that stopping pills early encourages antibiotic resistance, according to analysis in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Traditionally, patients have been told they must finish a prescribed course of antibiotics.

The current guidance from the World Health Organization and Britain's National Health Service says stopping antibiotic treatment early, even if you feel better, allows the bacteria causing the problem to become resistant to the drug.

However, research published Wednesday by Professor Martin Llewelyn, from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, and a team of experts argued it could be time to rethink this widespread advice.

"The idea that stopping antibiotic treatment early encourages antibiotic resistance is not supported by evidence, while taking antibiotics for longer than necessary increases the risk of resistance," the research said.

"We encourage policy makers, educators, and doctors to stop advocating 'complete the course' when communicating with the public," Llewelyn and the team of experts added.

Shorter antibiotic courses argued to be 'just as effective'

The study suggests typically long prescriptions for antibiotics were based on the concept that a resistance could develop if the drug was not taken for an extended period of time.

Instead the researchers argued there is evidence which suggests shorter courses of the drug, lasting between three and five days for instance, could work just as well for some illnesses.

The analysis does concede there are exceptions to this new school of thought, as giving just one type of antibiotic to treat tuberculosis (TB) or HIV infections is known to lead to rapid resistance in these cases.

General Practitioners urged people not to amend their behavior according to the results of one medical study and to continue listening to the advice of health professionals.

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