Ampicillin: Uses & Side Effects

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

This lesson goes into detail about the antibiotic ampicillin. How it works, what it is used to treat, and possible side effects will be covered in this lesson.


You are all finished with your doctor's visit and now know that you have a mild case of strep throat. The last thing that the doctor gave you was a prescription for a specific type of medicine that kills bacteria, called an antibiotic. The prescription is difficult for you to read, as usual, but you take it to the pharmacy to get it filled.

Antibiotics kill bacteria
Picture of rod-shaped bacteria

You recognize your favorite pharmacist, David. You hand him the prescription, he fills it, and then he tells you that you will be taking ampicillin, a penicillin antibiotic that works by damaging the cell wall of certain types of bacteria.

Ampicillin Use

Obviously, doctors prescribe ampicillin to treat strep throat, because that's what you're going to be taking for the next week! Out of curiosity, you ask David what else ampicillin can be used for. David lets you know that ampicillin can be used for other breathing-related infections such as bacterial pneumonia, bronchitis, tonsillitis, and pharyngitis.

He further explains that ampicillin is useful for treating bacterial infections in the digestive tract, as well as bacterial infections in the urinary and reproductive tracts like E. coli and gonorrhea. David adds that ampicillin is sometimes used to treat bacterial meningitis. This impressive list of illnesses makes you realize that ampicillin is a heavy hitter in terms of treatment uses.

Ampicillin Side Effects

This is all interesting stuff, but you are ready to go home and start taking it so you can get better. But before you leave, David has to go over the possible side effects with you though so you know what to expect and when you may need to go to the ER.

Stomach ache and other digestive problems are common side effects of ampicillin
Clipart of a guy with a stomach ache

David informs you that the most common side effects of ampicillin affect the digestive tract, so you might experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, inflammation of the tongue, and inflammation of the colon. He emphasizes that you should probably seek medical attention if you have swelling in the throat, a rash, or difficulty breathing--these side effects could mean that you are having an allergic reaction the medication.

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