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What are the Most Common Antibiotic Side Effects?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 13, 2024
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The most common antibiotic side effects are gastrointestinal in nature. Many people who take antibiotics experience some level of gastrointestinal distress, especially if they have to take a prolonged course of antibiotics. Other side effects of antibiotics are more rare, and usually limited to specific classes of antibiotics. It is advisable to read patient information carefully to learn more about potential side effects, drug interactions, and risks before starting a course of antibiotics.

Antibiotics are medications that are effective against bacterial infections. They are divided into a number of classes that can attack different types of organisms. If a doctor suspects that a patient has a bacterial infection, these medications can be prescribed to fight the infection and help the patient recover. A culture may be requested to find out which organisms are present so the most appropriate drug can be prescribed.

Unfortunately, antibiotics do not discriminate, and as a result, they tend to kill many beneficial organisms in the body. People taking these drugs can experience antibiotic side effects like nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps as a result of disturbances to the gut flora. These antibiotic side effects tend to grow worse over time. If they become debilitating, it may be possible to switch antibiotic medications. Some doctors may recommend taking probiotic supplements to keep the organisms in the gut in balance.

Another antibiotic side effect is the development of yeast infections in the mouth or vagina. This occurs because of an imbalance in the body's natural bacteria as well. People may notice a strong smell, foul discharge, or the appearance of white patches. If a yeast infection develops, a doctor may recommend changing medications in addition to providing treatment to resolve the infection.

More rare antibiotic side effects include sensitivity to sunlight, blood disorders, seizures, hearing loss, and fever. Extended use of aggressive antibiotics can lead to organ damage, especially in the kidneys, liver, and heart. This can cause symptoms like arrhythmias, jaundice, and edema. If patients notice signs of more serious side effects while on antibiotic medications, they should contact a doctor. Some antibiotics also cause allergic reactions. Patients who experience signs of allergies like skin breakouts and difficulty breathing should stop taking the medication and call a doctor immediately for advice and treatment. The doctor may prescribe a new medication, and a note will be made on the patient's chart about the allergic response and the antibiotic involved.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Kat919 — On Dec 14, 2011

@dfoster85 - I think it's also important to remember that when you really need antibiotics, you *need* them! You really need to have a pediatrician that you trust for your children and an internist/OB-GYN/family practitioner/etc, that you trust for yourself.

Because it's not always super-clear when to take an antibiotic, especially for things like a mild urinary tract infection or an ear infection in a child. We all know that overusing antibiotics, besides possibly causing side effects, can cause antibiotic resistance over time (both in the individual and in society as a whole). But you certainly don't want to miss a case of strep and develop scarlet fever, or wait to long to treat a UTI and get a kidney infection! The side effects of *not* taking antibiotics that you need can certainly be worse than the side effects of taking them!

By dfoster85 — On Dec 14, 2011

Whenever you're talking about the side effects of antibiotics or any other medicine, I think it's important to remember that many or most people won't have any problems with them at all!

When I had a c-section, I was on all sorts of IV antibiotics - I don't even know what they were, because I was a little out of it! I didn't get so much as a yeast infection. (My mother was taking care of me and she just kept bringing me more and more yogurt.)

Breastfeeding moms need to know that while many antibiotics are safe during breastfeeding (and pregnancy, if needed), thrush is a possible side effect and it can be really painful! Baby gets a fungal infection of the mouth, then it's in your nipple, cycle repeats. If baby is old enough, ask your pediatrician if s/he can have yogurt, too.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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