Antibiotics are one of the modern era’s greatest achievements. Ever since Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin in 1928, antibiotics revolutionized medicine and saved countless lives. Nowadays, there are many different kinds of antibiotics designed to treat a myriad of different bacterial infections.
However, as beneficial as they are, many users claim they experience negative side effects when they take antibiotics. One of the most common complaints is that antibiotics make them feel tired. But is this really true? Do antibiotics make you tired?
Keep reading to get a complete breakdown of antibiotics and all their possible side effects.
A Brief History of Antibiotics
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Antibiotics are a ubiquitous part of the healthcare system. Because they’re so common, many don’t really know exactly what they are or just how important they were in shaping modern-day medicine.
For starters, antibiotics are a type of medication that targets and kills bacteria.
As mentioned, antibiotics were discovered by Alexander Fleming. After sorting through petri dishes containing colonies of Staphylococcus, he noticed something strange. The entire petri dish was swarming with bacteria, save for one area where a piece of mold was growing.
That is how Fleming discovered that a specific strain of mold, called Penicillium notatum, killed bacteria. Not only that, but it also prevented further bacterial growth.
His discovery revolutionized the medical field. Before this, people could die from even the most minor injuries. Worse still, the treatments for certain conditions were limited and often involved using outlandish methods that did more harm than good.
That all changed in the 1940s when British doctors used penicillin to cure a 43-year-old’s severe strep infection. From there on out, antibiotics became the standard way to treat a variety of infections.
How Antibiotics Work
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Everyone thinks that when you get sick, you’re supposed to immediately start taking antibiotics. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. Every day, dozens of viruses, bacteria, and fungi invade the human body through small cuts, contacts with infected surfaces, or unwashed food.
Usually, the immune system is capable of fighting off these invaders. However, once in a while, the body will encounter an attacker that is too strong for it to handle. In such instances, doctors will prescribe their patients a round of antibiotics.
Antibiotics are medications that specifically target bacteria. They do this in two ways:
• They kill the bacteria. When ingested, antibiotics destroy the bacteria’s cell lining, along with its content.
• They stop the bacteria from multiplying. Bacteriostatic compounds in antibiotics inhibit bacterial protein synthesis.
Just one round of antibiotic treatment is usually enough to kill off 99% of bacteria. However, the issue here is that antibiotics don’t just kill off harmful bacteria — they target all bacteria, including the beneficial ones. The human body has a symbiotic relationship with several strains of bacteria that help us perform several bodily functions, like digestion.
When we take antibiotics to fight off an infection, the drugs end up killing the beneficial gut bacteria as well. That is why doctors usually recommend taking probiotics with antibiotics to protect or replenish the beneficial bacteria.
Do Antibiotics Make You Tired? Why?
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But while a round of probiotics prevents stomach aches, what about other side effects? A lot of patients who take antibiotics report feelings of drowsiness, increased fatigue, and muscle weakness. Could these symptoms be a result of the drugs themselves? The answer is still unclear.
Some doctors speculate that because antibiotics damage the gut microbiome, the body can’t efficiently absorb nutrients from food. This, combined with the fact that the body expends a lot of energy fighting off the infection, means you end up running on empty. However, this explanation is very lacking, since it doesn’t happen with all antibiotics.
Thus far, three types of antibiotics seem to have fatigue as a prominent side effect. They include:
• Amoxicillin — If you’ve ever suffered from a UTI or bronchitis, then you’ve likely taken Amoxicillin. Because it’s a broad spectrum, penicillin-based antibiotic, it’s effective at treating a wide range of bacterial infections.
However, one of its downsides is that it causes fatigue. This increased tiredness is usually completely normal and should clear up a day or so after you start taking the antibiotic. However, if the tiredness lasts longer, immediately visit your doctor.
• Azithromycin — Another common antibiotic that causes fatigue is Azithromycin. This drug belongs to the macrolide class of antibiotics, which is most effective at treating respiratory, skin, and eye infections. Some doctors will also prescribe it to treat some sexually transmitted diseases.
While Azithromycin can cause mild fatigue, it’s usually nothing serious. But if you find yourself bone-tired whenever you take it, speak to your doctor about alternatives.
• Ciprofloxacin — Belonging to the quinolones class of antibiotics, doctors prescribe Ciprofloxacin to patients with skin, prostate, and bone infections, among others. It’s also an antibiotic with the most prominent side effects, which include dizziness, drowsiness, and decreased alertness. If you’re experiencing one or all these symptoms, consult with your doctor about switching to another antibiotic.
As you can see, a lot of penicillin-based antibiotics have fatigue as a side-effect. While this may be due to the drug itself causing malabsorption, it could also just be a natural consequence of the infection.
However, just because the antibiotic can cause fatigue in some patients, doesn’t mean everyone experiences it. Everyone’s body is different, and consequently, they will respond to medications differently. So, before getting an antibiotic prescribed, be sure to talk to your doctor about which medication is right for you.
6 Most Common Side Effects of Antibiotics
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Thus far, we’ve established that antibiotics commonly have two side effects — stomach upset and fatigue. However, can they cause other problems? The answer is yes.
Though they’re not so common, antibiotics can trigger other issues in individuals who are sensitive to them.
While regular stomach upset is a common side-effect of antibiotic use, some patients can experience more severe stomach issues. The most typical one is diarrhea. Often, this problem is a direct result of your gut being more sensitive to antibiotics. Fortunately, it should clear up after you finish taking your medication
However, if your diarrhea gets worse, or if you develop more serious issues, like vomiting, fever, or blood in the stool, immediately consult your doctor. These symptoms are major signs that your body is not responding well to the medication. Therefore, you should ask your doctor about getting a different antibiotic.
2. Allergic Reactions
Though it’s much rarer, some people can experience allergic reactions when they take antibiotics. The reactions are usually mild and range from:
• Hives, or an itchy skin rash
• Tightness in the throat
Only about 1 in 15 patients will experience these side effects. What’s more, you can successfully manage them by taking antihistamines.
However, there are cases where an antibiotic can cause a potentially severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis. This is an immune response, in which the body releases a flood of chemicals that cause you to go into shock. Blood pressure immediately drops, and your airways narrow, which in turn blocks breathing.
The initial symptoms of anaphylaxis are very similar to a mild allergic reaction. They include a rapid, weak pulse, a skin rash, nausea, and vomiting. However, the difference is that anaphylactic symptoms come on rapidly. If you suspect you’re experiencing an anaphylactic reaction, call an ambulance immediately, since this condition can be life-threatening.
Photosensitivity is another common side-effect of antibiotic use. However, this issue is mostly associated with the antibiotic tetracycline. A lot of patients who take this drug report that it makes their skin sensitive to sunlight and artificial sources of light.
If you’re experiencing this particular side effect, know that you can manage it if you avoid direct sunlight. Also, make sure to put on sunblock when you go outside and wear long-sleeved clothing.
Apart from tetracycline, fluoroquinolones can cause light sensitivity in very rare cases, as well. They can also cause a whole host of other issues like tendon, joint or muscle pain, and a tingling sensation in the limbs. These side-effects are serious and can potentially be permanent unless you address them immediately.
4. Heart Problems
On the subject of fluoroquinolone, there have been cases where this antibiotic caused heart problems. However, this issue mostly arose in patients who were already at risk of heart valve issues.
Some common heart-related symptoms of fluoroquinolone use include:
• Sudden, and noticeable heart palpitations
• Edema in the ankles, feet, and legs
• Sudden shortness of breath
If you’re experiencing any of these issues consult your doctor immediately.
Fever is a tell-tale sign of infection. However, in rare cases, taking antibiotics can also trigger it. Antibiotic-related fever can happen with any type of antibiotic, but it’s more common with beta-lactams, cephalexin, minocycline, and sulfonamides. The temperature spike is usually very mild and will clear up 1‒2 days after you’ve started taking the drug.
But if your fever lasts for longer, or if it reaches 104°F (40°C), immediately call your doctor. Such a high temperature is likely a sign that you’re experiencing a bad allergic reaction and that you need to switch antibiotics.
6. Vaginal Yeast Infection
As mentioned, antibiotics don’t just kill off harmful bacteria — they kill off beneficial ones too, such as the vaginal lactobacillus bacteria. This “good bacteria” is a vital part of the vaginal ecosystem, as it helps fight off various pathogens. So when antibiotics wipe out lactobacillus colonies, this can result in a yeast infection.
Some of the most common symptoms of a yeast infection include:
• Vaginal itching
• Swelling around the vagina
• Burning and pain during urination or sex
• A whitish-gray and clumpy discharge that resembles cottage cheese
While these symptoms are uncomfortable, it is possible to manage them. A vaginal antifungal cream, ointment, suppository, or oral tablet should help clear out the infection and leave you feeling healthy in no time. You can get many of these creams without a prescription.
However, it’s always smart to consult with your doctor or OBGYN to make sure you get the right medication for you. What’s more, you should inform your partner if you have a yeast infection and always use condoms when engaging in sex. Though a yeast infection is harmless and usually not sexually transmitted, if your partner has a weakened immune system, they can catch it.
How Do You Stop Fatigue From Antibiotics?
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So, you’ve thankfully managed to avoid any of the other side effects related to antibiotic use. However, the medication is still making you very tired, which is affecting your daily life. The question now is, how do you stop fatigue from antibiotics?
First and foremost, you shouldn’t immediately stop taking the medication. You still need the antibiotics to get rid of the infection. What’s more, stopping the antibiotics midway can cause the bacteria to develop a resistance to them. This, in turn, could make the infection come back, even stronger than before.
So, instead of throwing in the towel, there are several alternatives you can explore to help manage your fatigue:
• Ask your doctor to prescribe a different antibiotic, or to adjust your dosage.
• Rest more. Though this advice may seem obvious, an extra hour or two of sleep at night can go a long way toward making you feel less tired while on medication.
• Avoid any strenuous activity. That includes driving, hard manual labor, or intense exercise. They will not only put more strain on your already drained body but potentially endanger you and others.
• Do not drink alcohol. Taking antibiotics with any kind of hard liquor can cause many unpleasant side effects, like headaches, nausea, rapid heart rate, and chest pain.
• Avoid any other substances that make you sleepy, like sleeping pills or recreational drugs.
Other Possible Causes of Fatigue
Fatigue as a side-effect of antibiotic use is pretty rare. Therefore, before attributing your sluggishness to the antibiotic, you should first consider the possibility that it may be a result of something else.
1. The Illness Itself
First off, any form of illness will make you feel tired. Your body is releasing chemicals called cytokines that signal your immune system to fight off the invader. These chemicals also tell your brain to increase the sensation of fatigue. That feeling is meant to make you rest more so that your body can direct all its energy into combating the infection.
In other words, be sure to talk to your doctor about any symptoms you may be experiencing after you’ve started taking the antibiotic. That will help them determine if the fatigue is a natural consequence of the illness or if the antibiotic is to blame.
2. Other Medication
Another possible cause of fatigue is the medication you’re taking alongside the antibiotics. There is a whole laundry list of drugs that can cause fatigue in patients. Some of the most common ones include:
• Antifungal drugs
• Muscle relaxants
• Radiation therapy
• Anti-inflammatory drugs
• Anti-anxiety medication
• Heart medication
• Pain medication
• Blood-pressure meds
• Blood thinners
What’s even more concerning, a lot of these drugs can clash with certain types of antibiotics. So, before getting your prescription, tell your doctor about any other medication you’re currently taking or have taken in the last month. This information will help them determine the type of antibiotic to prescribe, as well as the dosage.
3. An Undiagnosed Illness
Perhaps your fatigue isn’t a result of the infection or the antibiotics. Maybe it’s an unrelated symptom of an underlying condition. A lot of illnesses have extreme fatigue as their primary symptom. A few of these include:
• Cushing’s syndrome
• Kidney disease
• Thyroid conditions
• Hormonal disorders or contraception, like birth control pills and the implant
Once again, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Tell them about any issues you’ve had after contracting the infection and any symptoms you may have had prior. Knowing this information could potentially help them diagnose some underlying condition you may have before it ends up getting worse.
4. How You’re Taking Your Antibiotic
When people ask ‘do antibiotics make you tired,’ they assume that something in the drug itself causes fatigue. However, a lot of the time it’s how you’re taking the antibiotic.
To understand whether you’re taking your medication as you’re supposed to, consider the following:
• When you are taking your antibiotic — This doesn’t just apply to taking the antibiotics at the prescribed hour. Some antibiotics need to be taken on an empty stomach, while some you should only take after a meal. Therefore, you should look into whether or not you’re taking the antibiotic when you should be.
• How you’re taking the antibiotic — Another thing to consider is the liquids you’re drinking with your antibiotic. As a rule, it’s best to take your medication with just pure water. Herbal teas, probiotic yogurt, and juice are also acceptable. However, if you’re taking the antibiotic with coffee or alcoholic beverages, then that may be the cause of all your symptoms.
• If you’re taking the correct dosage — When your doctor prescribes the antibiotics to you, they will also prescribe the dosage they believe is appropriate for you. Be sure to stick to that dosage. Taking too many antibiotics can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, dizziness, and fatigue.