What is Prophylaxis?

by Anthony Carter on February 11, 2011


Not all medicine or treatments offered by the medical profession are to treat conditions. In many instances there will be medicines given to stop a problem occurring in the first place – this is called prophylaxis. Most of us will have no problem crediting medicines when they help us deal better with a symptom or condition, but with prophylaxis it is rarer to feel such gratitude. Despite the fact that we may not notice the effect of prophylaxis it is something that could be a real life saver. We will never know how many people have been spared suffering because of this type of medication, but it is so good that we have it.

How Prophylaxis Helps

Prophylaxis covers a wide range of medicines and other items; even a condom is a considered one because it can prevent us from catching an STD. All those medicines that help keep our blood pressure within normal limits or keep our blood thin are likewise prophylaxis. If your child has a fall and you wash the wound with some type of antibiotic then this could be described as using prophylaxis – the list goes on and on.

Some medicines can be used to treat conditions but also to prevent them occurring in the first place. A good example of this is antibiotics; they can be given to help fight disease or to stop it arriving in the first place. It is now quite common for surgeons to prescribe a few doses of antibiotic following surgery. This is not because they want to treat any infection that is currently present but to avoid one coming in the first place. Of course we won’t notice the benefit of this type of treatment because we’ll never know what might have been.

Prophylaxis can be used on a much larger scale. Sometimes there will be an attempt to reduce the impact of an epidemic by offering this type of treatment. A good example of this is the flu vaccine that is given to a lot of people at the start of each winter. The idea of this type of intervention is not only to safeguard those who are vulnerable, such as the very young and the very old, but to also reduce the overall number of the people who will suffer in any epidemic. It is generally the case that the more people that have a virus the more it will be spread.

A World without Prophylaxis

The world would be a much different place if we only treated conditions as they arise. This is because when a lot of problems do become noticeable it is already too late to treat them. It is much better to prevent things like strokes and heart disease before they develop rather than when they are already destroying the body. Prophylaxis medicine really is the unsung hero of our modern world because it keeps us safe without us even noticing. It has without doubt saved many lives and extended the life of the rest of us.

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