Study links oral antibiotic use to possible painful side effect

11 May 2018

Image: Munole/Shutterstock

A study looking at thousands of patients has appeared to find a link between taking oral antibiotics and the possible development of a quite painful condition.

We’ve been warned by the World Health Organisation and nearly every health service out there to not overuse antibiotics. Now, a new study warns against their use not necessarily because we’re speeding towards a post-antibiotic world, but because they might be causing the development of an unintended – and painful – side effect.

In a paper published to the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, a team from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has searched through more than 20 years of data to find a possible link between the taking of oral antibiotics and the development of kidney stones.

Over the past 30 years, the overall prevalence of kidney stones has risen by 70pc, particularly among young women and adolescents, despite it being previously rare in the latter.

Five antibiotic types

Drawing on health records from the UK, the team analysed prior antibiotic exposure for nearly 26,000 patients with kidney stones and compared them with nearly 260,000 control subjects.

The team found that a total of five classes of oral antibiotics were associated with a diagnosis of kidney stone disease, all of which were taken orally, including: sulfas, cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones, nitrofurantoin and broad-spectrum penicillins.

After making some adjustments for age, sex, race, urinary infection and other medical conditions, patients who had taken one of the first four antibiotics were more than twice as likely to develop kidney stones compared with those who hadn’t.

For those who took broad-spectrum penicillins, the risk was slightly less, at 27pc higher than normal.

Children most at risk

The strongest group at risk of developing kidney stones from oral antibiotic use was deemed to be children and adolescents. The risk decreased over time, but remained elevated several years after antibiotic use.

While scientists have known for a long time about the changes antibiotics have on the human microbiome (which is crucial to our day-to-day health), this is the first time that a disruption in the microbiome has been linked to the occurrence of kidney stones.

“Our findings suggest that antibiotic prescription practices represent a modifiable risk factor. A change in prescribing patterns might decrease the current epidemic of kidney stones in children,” said the study’s lead, Dr Gregory E Tasian.

Tasian and his colleagues are hoping to expand this research into broader, population-based studies to better understand how variations in microbiome composition may influence the development of kidney stones.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic