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Inflammatory bowel disease and other side effects of antibiotics

Avoid using antibiotics needlessly. @Shutterstock

Antibiotics may perturb and permanently alter the gut microbial communities, and increase the risk of gastrointestinal disease.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : August 21, 2020 2:52 PM IST

Doctors may prescribe antibiotics to treat or prevent bacterial infections. However, like any medicine, antibiotics can cause side effects too. If not used properly or used excessively, it can lead to some serious side effects. For instance, a new study has warned that antibiotics use may increase the risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and its subtypes - ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. These conditions are characterized by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

IBD is more prevalent in Europe, the US, and other parts of the world undergoing rapid economic development, increased sanitation, and more frequent use of antibiotics - revealed the study published in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology.

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There is a rising concern that antibiotics may perturb and permanently alter the gut microbial communities, which play a key role in maintaining human health. This could potentially increase the risk of gastrointestinal disease.

In the latest study, researchers from the Harvard Medical School in the US demonstrated that more frequent use of antibiotics was associated with the development of IBD and its subtypes. This affirms that antibiotics are a risk factor for IBD.

As part of the study, the researchers identified almost 24,000 new IBD cases (16,000 had ulcerative colitis and 8,000 Crohn's disease) and compared them with 28,000 siblings, and 117,000 controls from the general population. They found that prior use of antibiotics was associated with a nearly two-times increased risk of IBD after adjusting for several risk factors. The risk was even higher with the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics.

Other common side effects of antibiotics

Antibiotics are used for the treatment of common infections like bronchitis, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections. These medicines can kill the bacteria causing the infection, or stop the bacteria from growing and multiplying. Below are some common side effects of antibiotics.

Stomach upset

Some antibiotics such as macrolide antibiotics, cephalosporins, penicillins, and fluoroquinolonemay cause stomach upset or other gastrointestinal side effects like nausea, vomiting, cramps and diarrhea.


Your body may become more sensitive to light after taking antibiotics, such as tetracycline. When you suffer from this side effect, the light may seem brighter in your eyes and your skin will become vulnerable to sunburn. Usually, photosensitivity goes away after you finish taking the antibiotic.


Many medications, including antibiotics, can cause fever, which can be due to an allergic reaction to the medication or as a bad side effect. Drug fevers are more common when you're taking antibiotics like beta-lactams, cephalexin, minocycline and sulfonamides.

Vaginal yeast infection

Antibiotics use can also decrease the amount of lactobacillus, the "good bacteria" found in the vagina that helps keep a naturally occurring fungus called Candida in check. Uncontrolled Candida growth can then lead to a yeast infection.Vaginal yeast infection can cause symptoms like vaginal itching, burning during urination or sex, swelling around the vagina, soreness, pain during sex, redness, rash, whitish-gray and clumpy discharge.

Tooth discoloration

Use of antibiotics such as tetracycline and doxycycline can cause permanent tooth staining, especially in children who are below 8 years as their teeth are still developing. If you take these medicines while pregnant, they may stain the developing child's primary teeth.

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