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While they can help prevent infections and save lives, taking too many or certain antibiotics may cause heart problems.
If you take antibiotics, learn how to lower your risk.
A Providence cardiologist explains what to look out for.
If you’ve ever taken antibiotics for strep throat, bronchitis, a sinus infection, a urinary tract infection, or another bacterial infection, you are already familiar with the benefits of these medicines. They can also prevent potential infections from injuries or surgeries.
While antibiotics can help get you on the road to recovery and keep infections from spreading, there are a few things to watch out for while you are taking them. And if you take them for too long, antibiotics can take a toll on your bodily systems, including your gut health and digestion, mood and your heart.
Keep reading to see what a Providence physician and the latest research say about antibiotics and how you can prevent possible associated health risks and damage to your heart.
Is there a link between antibiotics and heart disease?
The answer is: maybe. A study published in the European Heart Journal in 2019 showed that some women may be at an increased risk for heart disease and stroke if they use antibiotics for a long period of time. In the study, women over the age of 40 who took antibiotics for more than two months had the highest risk.
Researchers believed the effects on the heart were caused by the antibiotics destroying “good” bacteria in the gut, which meant more viruses, microorganisms and “bad” bacteria could thrive and cause heart disease. If you’ve been on several rounds of antibiotics—to treat an infection that won’t go away or manage an autoimmune disease—talk to your doctor about other ways you can help control your condition and minimize your dosage.
Another study, published in 2015, showed that there may be a link between heart health and antibiotics used to treat pneumonia and bronchitis. The study showed these medicines can cause rapid heartbeat and, in extreme cases, result in sudden cardiac death.
What if you’re already at risk for heart disease?
If you’ve already been diagnosed with heart disease or have associated risk factors, be aware of certain antibiotics that may cause heart attack or stroke, including:
- Clarithromycin (Biaxin). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautions that this antibiotic may raise the risk of heart attack in people with heart disease.
- Fluoroquinolone. The FDA recommends avoiding this antibiotic if you have a history of high blood pressure or blood vessel problems because it can increase risks for aneurysms. An aneurysm is when a blood vessel wall weakens and then balloons out, or in severe cases, ruptures.
Before taking any medicine, it’s important to talk with your doctor about your medical history, risk factors and any potential side effects of the medicine. In most cases, doctors can prescribe different antibiotics for patients who have heart disease or a history of heart problems.
How can you lower your risk of side effects from antibiotics?
Even if you’re not at risk for heart problems, using antibiotics too much can cause viruses to become stronger than the medicine. This is called antibiotic resistance. To make sure this doesn’t happen to you:
- Tell your doctor about your (and your family’s) health history.
- Take antibiotic medicines exactly as instructed and be sure to finish all of it even if you’re feeling better.
- Ask your doctor about side effects and symptoms of the medicine.
- Keep a log of the antibiotics you’ve been taking, especially if you have different doctors.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.
About the AuthorMore Content by Providence Heart & Vascular Team