Pharmacists Play a Key Role in Counseling Patients About Probiotics

SEPTEMBER 24, 2018
Gina Kokosky, Assistant Editor
Patients have probably heard about probiotics and their role in maintaining digestive health, but they may be unaware of how to use them.

Pharmacists should guide patients in determining whether a probiotic supplement is right for them and which product will be most beneficial, according to a Perfect Consult, a video series hosted by Pharmacy Times  on a variety of topics of interest to pharmacists.

Probiotics are the naturally present bacteria and fungi in the body that allow it to function normally. Strains of bacteria known as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus and a strain of yeast called Saccharomyces boulardii are the most common probiotics found in supplements. They can be found behind the counter in the pharmacy refrigerator, over the counter in the digestive health aisle, or in the vitamin section.

Because probiotics do not require a prescription, pharmacists have the responsibility of providing accurate information about their many uses, according to information contained in the video segment.

Antibiotic use is an extremely common cause of diarrhea among patients, according to the Perfect Consult. More than 154 million antibiotic prescriptions are written each year, with up to 50% of the patients suffering from antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Diarrhea with antibiotic use is often seen because antibiotics can kill both the bacteria associated with an illness and the naturally present bacteria in the digestive tract. Pharmacists may be able to prevent antibiotic associated diarrhea by asking a few questions and potentially suggesting probiotics, as demonstrated in the online exchange.

“As pharmacists, we can probe the patient’s knowledge with a few questions when picking up an antibiotic to help identify patients that may benefit from a probiotic,” said the host of the exchange. “Generally, antibiotics tend to not only kill the targeted bad bacteria that are causing the infection and making a person sick, but also the good bacteria that live throughout the digestive tract. This can lead to diarrhea, as well as secondary infections in the mouth and other areas of the body.”

Probiotics can also help prevent vulvovaginal candidiasis, also known as a vaginal yeast infection. Up to 75% of fertile women will experience a yeast infection at some point, with certain health conditions resulting in recurrent infections. Women who are disabled, pregnant, premenopausal, or postmenopausal, are immunocompromised patients with diabetes, or are taking either antibiotics or estrogen replacements are at an increased risk for recurrent vaginal yeast infections. Lactobacillus is normally found in the vaginal flora to maintain low pH levels and prevent yeast infections. Pharmacists should recommend a probiotic containing Lactobacillusto help prevent and treat bacterial infections, recurrent urinary tract infections, and uncomplicated yeast infections in patients who are susceptible.

Some other health conditions that probiotics may alleviate include bacterial vaginosis, eczema, inflammatory bowel disorders such as Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, oral thrush, seasonal allergies, and traveler’s diarrhea.

To learn more about counseling patients who may need probiotics, visit Pharmacy Times' Consultation Center. 

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