Doctors say finishing antibiotics is a potentially harmful myth
In a challenge to conventional medical practice and belief, leading medical experts are now claiming that patients should stop taking prescribed antibiotics when they feel better and not finish the course.
Medical experts are arguing that the deeply embedded message that patients should "finish the course" of antibiotics should be dropped.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, Professor Martin Llewelyn and his colleagues say it's time for policy makers, educators, and doctors to stop advising people to complete a prescribed course of such medications in order to avoid antibiotic resistance.
Professor Llewelyn says that patients are being put at unnecessary risk from antibiotic resistance when treatment is carried on for longer than necessary, and not when it is stopped early.
Although antibiotics are vital to modern medicine, antibiotic resistance remains a global, urgent threat to human health. Until now, public health messages regarding antibiotics have emphasised that patients who fail to complete prescribed antibiotic courses put themselves and others at risk of antibiotic resistance. However, medical experts now say the idea that stopping antibiotic treatment early encourages antibiotic resistance is not supported by evidence, and taking antibiotics for longer than necessary actually increases the risk.
Completing the course goes against one of the most fundamental and widespread medication beliefs many people have - that we should take as little medication as necessary, they add. However, there are notable exceptions for some types of antibiotic, such as those used to treat tuberculosis.
The authors have called for a more appropriate, simpler message, such as stop when you feel better. Professor Llewelyn says that the public should also be encouraged to recognise that antibiotics are a precious and finite natural resource that should be conserved by tailoring treatment length for individual patients.