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Is Your Doctor Overprescribing Antibiotics?

If your doc’s breaking out the big guns every time you’re feeling blah, the superstrong meds could be messing with your immune system.

That pack of pills your doc passes you when you’re feeling under the weather could be doing more harm than good, and researchers from the University of Utah are blowing the whistle on physicians who go straight for broad-spectrum antibiotics, like azithromycin, or Z-Pak. A new report shows that 60% of the time U.S. physicians choose some of the strongest types of antibiotics when prescribing medication.

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Why you should be concerned: While antibiotics destroy the harmful bacteria in your body—like the type that causes strep throat—they kill off the good stuff, too. And because it’s difficult to distinguish between viral and bacterial infections, practitioners will often err on the side of caution and give you the strong stuff, even if you’re just battling a nasty cold. “The biggest problem with using antibiotics when they’re not needed is the development of antibiotic resistance, which is when bacteria survive by outsmarting the antibiotic,” says researcher Lauri Hicks, D.O., in a University of Utah news release. “Common infections become difficult to treat, and when you really need an antibiotic, it may not work.”

So, what can you can do to prevent an antibiotic overload? Adam Hersh, M.D., Ph.D., an infectious disease expert and senior study author, advises asking your doctor these two questions: Do I really need this antibiotic? And, is this antibiotic the best choice for my infection?

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