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Overuse of Antibiotics Linked to Bowel Disease in Kids

September 27, 2012 — The journal Pediatrics has published a new study that has found an 84% increased risk of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in children who are prescribed antibiotics very early in life. The researchers found a 5-fold increased risk for babies who were given antibiotics when they were less than one year old. They estimated that the over-use of antibiotics may contribute to an excess 1,700 cases of IBD every year. Although the study does not prove cause-and-effect, it may help explain why the incidence of IBD has doubled in the last 10 years.

The earlier the child used the antibiotic, and the more antibiotics they took, the higher their risk of IBD. This conclusion was based on an analysis of more than 1 million children at 500 clinical practices in the United Kingdom. Data was collected for at least two years, from 1994 until 2009.

Nearly two-third of children under 17 years old were prescribed an antibiotic at some time, and 58% were prescribed an anti-anaerobic antibiotic such as penicillin, amoxicillin, tetracyclines, and others. There are many important, beneficial colonies of anaerobic bacteria in the gut that aid in digestion. Antibiotics that target anaerobic bacteria (the good as well as the bad) can destroy much of a child’s natural gut bacteria. Researchers think that, in some cases, this could trigger persistent inflammation.

The researchers are careful not to suggest that antibiotics are harmful — indeed, they are often critical for the medical care of a child. However, they are concerned that some children may be prescribed powerful antibiotics for minor conditions, or ailments that are not curable with an antibiotic. The researchers suggest that parents ask their doctor about prescribing their child an antibiotic that targets a more selective group of bacteria. The prescribing physician should also be informed if the child has a family history of IBD.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), also known as “irritable bowel syndrome,” refers to a group of gastrointestinal disorders that includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These painful, debilitating diseases occur when the body’s own inflammation responses trigger diarrhea, constipation, abdominal cramping, weight loss, and other symptoms. The condition is chronic, though it can be managed with treatment.

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