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Patient Stories

Acne & Antibiotics: Why I Regret Not Speaking with my Doctor

by: Samantha Relich for Choosing Wisely Canada

Years after being on long-term antibiotics for her acne, a patient regrets not having a conversation with her doctor earlier.

For a long time, when Lauren looked in the mirror all she wanted was her acne gone. By the time she was in the 11th grade she had exhausted all her options for topical over-the-counter treatments.

A little desperate, she visited her family doctor who prescribed her Minocycline, an antibiotic. “I was already on birth control, so the antibiotic was the first thing that my doctor went to,” says Lauren. Her doctor told her that her acne looked like it might be cystic and advised her that an antibiotic was likely the only treatment that would give her clear skin.

Lauren jumped at the chance. The first six-month prescription worked so well, that Lauren stayed on the antibiotic for five years.  “I just kept taking it,” Lauren says. “You know how it is when you’re in high school and you’re a little vain – once your acne’s gone, you just want it to stay gone.”

In all likelihood, the antibiotic was the solution most likely to clear up Lauren’s acne. However, now off the antibiotic, Lauren worries about the possible long-term side effects of being on an antibiotic so long. She also wishes she had been able to dialogue better with her doctor.

“I just went with it,” she says. As a teenager, it never crossed Lauren’s mind to ask her doctor about the risks associated with long-term antibiotic use. After the initial prescription, renewals became her default response. “It was easy to forget to bring it up when I did see her,” says Lauren.

Lauren took the daily prescription throughout her four years of university. A few times she stopped taking the pill for a month or so, hoping that her skin improved. Each time she stopped taking the pills her acne came back.  She finally stopped taking the prescription in 2014.

“I started to realize that being on antibiotics for years couldn’t be good for me,” she says. However, more than that, she was tired of a solution that masked the physical symptoms of the problem but didn’t actually solve it.

“I wanted to figure out the real reason I was getting acne, whether it was hormonal or a food allergy,” Lauren says. She laughs, “I still haven’t really figured it out.” Her skin has improved, though; she has mostly cut out dairy and gluten and describes her new diet as “more on the vegan side.”

“I still really struggled when I came off the antibiotic,” she says. “My skin was the worst it had ever been.” In addition to the dietary changes, Lauren now uses a topical treatment.  She explains she wishes she had asked her doctor about alternatives before committing to using the antibiotic for so long. “I probably would have tried lifestyle changes first, if I had known to ask,” she says.

The next time she visits her family doctor, Lauren wants to talk about the possible long-term effects. “I know she gave me the best advice at the time. But I want inquire about the effects that could have come from it,” she says.

Her advice to her high school self is simple she says, “If you’re at the point where you’re being prescribed a pill or another drug, do your research and ask your doctor as many questions as you feel like you need to ask.”



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