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Long-term antibiotics increase women’s risk of death by 27%

Antibiotics increase women’s risk of an early death from heart disease by inflicting irreparable damage on their gut lining, new research warns. 

Those who are prescribed a dose that spans two months or more are 58 percent more likely to succumb to terminal heart issues, the study found.

In fact, their risk of premature death from all causes bumps up 27 percent. 

The findings come a month after the FDA warned people against a particularly common antibiotic sold under the brand name Biaxin – which is used to treat many skin, ear, sinus and lung infections – for its link to potentially fatal heart issues. 

Those who are prescribed a dose that spans two months or more are 27 percent more like to die early. Their risk of heart-related death raises 58 percent, according to the Tulane study

The study is one of the first to quantify how much antibiotics affect the gut lining and heart health. 

While previous studies have found antibiotic use is associated with long-lasting changes to gut microbiota, no study had examined how significant this damage would be for relatively healthy people.

‘Gut microbiota alterations have been associated with a variety of life-threatening disorders, such as cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer,’ said lead author Dr Lu Qi, professor of epidemiology at Tulane University.

‘Antibiotic exposure affects balance and composition of the gut microbiome, even after one stops taking antibiotics.

‘So, it is important to better understand how taking antibiotics might impact risks for chronic diseases and death.’ 

In a collaborative study with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Qi led a team studying 37,510 women over the age of 60 who did not have heart disease or cancer at the start of the program, which spanned from 2004 until summer 2012. 

Assessing each woman’s antibiotic use, they put them into four groups – not at all; fewer than 15 days; between 15 days and two months; or two or more months. 

By the end, they found a clear correlation between antibiotic use and premature death risk, particularly if the course was longer. 

This was true even after accounting for other factors such as diet, obesity, other medications and lifestyle.  

The women who took antibiotics for two months or longer were 27 percent more likely to die from any cause, except cancer, than those who took no antibiotics at all.

In particular, a prescription for longer than two months increased risk of death from heart disease by 58 percent. 

Death risk was higher still if these women had a history of antibiotic use in their middle age too.    

‘Although we observed a notable association between long-term antibiotic use and risk of death, it isn’t yet clear whether long-term antibiotic use is the specific cause of the association,’ Dr Qi said.

‘For example, women who reported antibiotic use might be sicker in other unmeasured ways. 

‘These results, however, contribute to a better understanding of risk factors for all-cause and cardiovascular death. 

‘We now have good evidence that people who take antibiotics for long periods during adulthood may be a high-risk group to target for risk-factor modification to prevent heart disease and death.’