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John McMillin: To finish that prescription or not, that is the question

John McMillin • Updated Jan 2, 2018 at 6:00 PM

The Christmas rush is through, and hopefully you all had a wonderful day to think about the reason for the season and to spend some needed time with family. 

Of course, the down side to all that time with family, friends, parties and too many potluck dinner events are the germs. It never fails, if you’re like me, this time of year brings on a few symptoms of some “bug” making its way through the neighborhood.

No doubt, many of you will do like me and visit your doctor’s office and beg for antibiotics, because there’s just too much year-end work that needs to be addressed. There lies the dilemma. After taking a few rounds of antibiotics, you feel better. Should I continue the course of action, or is it safe for me to call another “bug” defeated?

Ken Majkowski, chief pharmacy officer at FamilyWize, a partner with United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumbereland, addressed the common question, “Do I need to finish my antibiotic if I feel better?” Ken brings more than 40 years of health care experience to the FamilyWize team, including 14 years of clinical pharmacy experience in retail, hospital and home care.

Most of us have been told over and over again that it is critical to finish a full course of antibiotics as prescribed, even if your symptoms have disappeared. However, over the last year, you may have seen several news stories suggesting that finishing antibiotics after you feel better may not be necessary.

So which is it? Should you finish your next course of antibiotics or stop when you feel better?

The answer, like so many things related to prescription medication, is to ask first.

Often, news stories generalize to make all antibiotics sound the same. In reality, there are a myriad of reasons why a doctor might prescribe an antibiotic. In some cases, it might be perfectly fine to stop when you feel better. In other situations, discontinuing treatment too soon might open the door to a dangerous infection or other risk.

It is also important to remember that the studies referenced by the media are relatively new. More research is needed to fully understand how antibiotic use may evolve in the future.

As a patient, the smartest thing you can do is to ask about each and every prescription you receive.

How long should you take the medication? Is there any situation where you should stop earlier than prescribed? Are there any side affects that you should watch for or that might require you to stop treatment?

As you are taking a medication, always speak up if you have any concerns. Your pharmacist and your prescribing doctor would much rather adjust or change your treatment, rather than see you stop on your own midway through. We at UWWUC hope you manage to avoid ills of the season and wish you and your family a happy New Year.

John McMillin is president of United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. Email him at [email protected]

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