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Updated February 01, 2011

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Definition: Antibiotics are powerful medications that help fight bacterial infection. Frequently prescribed in modern medicine, antibiotics cure disease by either killing bacteria or keeping them from reproducing.

What Type of Infections Do Antibiotics Treat?

Antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by bacteria. For example:

What Don't Antibiotics Treat?

Antibiotics do not treat infections that are caused by a virus. This means they are useless, and may do more harm than good, if you are seeking treatment for the common cold, flu, or have a fungus infection like ringworm.

Side Effects of Antibiotics

The most common side effects of antibiotics include:

  • nausea
  • soft stools or mild diarrhea

The following, more serious side effects should be immediately reported to your doctor:

  • vomiting
  • severe, watery diarrhea accompanied by stomach cramps
  • allergic reaction (shortness of breath, hives, swelling of the lips, face or tongue)
  • fainting
  • vaginal itching or discharge
  • white patches on the tongue

When Should I Stop Taking My Antibiotics?

It is extremely important that you take your antibiotics until they are completely gone. Do not stop taking your antibiotics just because you start to feel better. Doing so may lead to antibiotic resistance, which can affect everyone. If you have any questions about your antibiotics, be sure to discuss them with your health care provider.

Also Known As: Antimicrobials
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