What are some commonly prescribed antibiotics

When do you really need to take antibiotics?

They are considered to be a milestone in medicine: antibiotics. It was only with the discovery of this group of active ingredients that life-threatening infections such as blood poisoning or pneumonia could be combated. Major operations such as organ transplants would also be unthinkable without antibiotics. However, the drugs should not be overestimated: They only work against bacteria, and less and less.

How antibiotics work

Various substances, so-called drug classes, are available for therapy with antibiotics. Each group of substances has its own mechanism of action, but all antibiotics have one goal: to prevent disease-causing bacteria from spreading in the human body and to kill them. To do this, the antibiotics intervene in the metabolism of the bacteria and inhibit the further growth of the pathogen or kill the bacteria in a targeted manner.

"When a patient needs an antibiotic can only be decided by a doctor who has examined the patient and knows his constitution and medical history," says Petra Rudnick, general practitioner at the TK medical center. Carelessly prescribed or even taken unauthorized antibiotics lead to frequent and unnecessary use of the drugs, for example for colds - after all, the most common infection in Europe. Almost 90 percent of all colds with typical symptoms such as runny nose, cough and sore throat are caused by viruses.

However, antibiotics are powerless against viruses. Viruses do not have their own metabolism and antibiotics are therefore not a target for attack. At the same time, unnecessary consumption increases the risk that bacteria that are insensitive to antibiotics will occur more frequently and that the available drugs will no longer work.

Targeted use of antibiotics

Experts also cite the often questionable use of broad spectrum antibiotics when targeted antibiotic therapy is possible as another reason why resistance is becoming more common.

What are broad spectrum antibiotics?

With their different modes of action, some antibiotics can specifically disable certain bacteria - with the following "tactics":

  • Destruction of the cell wall and thus destruction
  • Inhibition of the proteins that are required for bacterial growth
  • Inhibition of the vitamin folic acid, which is required for bacteria to multiply
  • Inhibition of an enzyme that is vital for the bacteria

Broad spectrum antibiotics also use these modes of action, but act against a large number of different bacteria. Which pathogen triggered the infection is determined in the laboratory.

"If the laboratory result has not yet been determined, broad-spectrum antibiotics should only be used in an acute phase," says Rudnick. "As soon as the pathogen is known, we should switch to targeted antibiotic therapy as soon as possible. This increases the success of the treatment and reduces undesirable side effects."

When it makes sense to take it

The doctor decides when it makes sense to use an antibiotic. Important reasons for taking an antibiotic include pneumonia and severe urinary tract infections.