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Doctors Overprescribe Antibiotics for Bronchitis, Study Reports

Update Date: May 21, 2014 10:10 AM EDT
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Over the past few years, health experts have been concerned over the development of antibiotic-resistant strains, which are more difficult to treat. Several experts blame the excessive use of antibiotics in causing this dilemma. In a new study, researchers found that doctors continue to overprescribe antibiotics despite knowing that this form of treatment might not be effective for the particular illness in question.

For this study, the team from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA examined the antibiotic prescription rate for bronchitis, which occurs when the lining of the bronchial tubes become inflamed. They looked at information collected through two national surveys that monitored patients that sought out medical care from clinics or hospital emergency departments. From 1996 to 2010, the team identified 3,153 patients that had acute bronchitis.

During that time frame, the researchers found that doctors were prescribing antibiotics more frequently today than they did before. Out of the 3,153 patients, 71 percent of them were treated with some kind of prescription antibiotic. 36 percent received a prescription for an extended macrolide and 35 percent received a prescription for some broad-spectrum antibiotics. Throughout the 14 years of the study, 72 percent of primary care physicians prescribed some kind of antibiotic for acute bronchitis. 69 percent of hospital doctors working in the ED did as well.

The researchers stated that the antibiotic prescription rate for acute bronchitis is alarming because the ideal rate should be zero percent. According to over 40 years of clinical trials, researchers have repeatedly found that antibiotics are ineffective in treating acute bronchitis. According to the background information provided in the study, both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set have stressed the fact that doctors should not prescribe antibiotics for acute bronchitis.

"Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier and benefit from modern medicine," said Dr. Keiji Fukuda according to Los Angeles Times. "Unless we take significant actions ... the implications will be devastating."

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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