Sulbactam is a prescription medication taken in combination with an antibiotic called ampicillin to enhance its effects against certain types of bacterial infections. The drug inhibits the action of bacterial enzymes that would otherwise attack ampicillin and render it useless. In most cases, sulbactam is administered in a hospital through an intravenous (IV) line or an intramuscular injection. Patients who have severe infections generally begin to see improvements in their symptoms within a few days and full recovery is possible in one to two weeks. There are risks of allergic reactions and side effects that need to be assessed before treatment is started.
Ampicillin alone is highly effective against many bacterial strains, but certain pathogens such as staphylococcus and Escherichia coli have natural defenses against the drug. An enzyme produced by such bacteria called beta-lactamase is capable of destroying ampicillin. Sulbactam is a beta-lactamase inhibitor, which means it binds to the enzyme and prevents it from attacking ampicillin molecules. Patients who have serious skin, gastrointestinal, or urinary tract infections may be given sulbactam as part of their treatment plans.
Before deciding to administer sulbactam, a doctor will typically run a series of blood tests to make sure the bacterium responsible for infection will be susceptible to the drug. One part sulbactam is mixed with two parts ampicillin, usually in a 500 to 1000 milligram solution at the start of treatment. An IV or intramuscular injection is given once every six hours. Treatment is generally continued for about 14 days, even if symptoms begin to subside earlier, to ensure the infection is entirely cured. It is important to follow a doctor's instructions about taking other medications and maintaining a proper diet while in the hospital to ensure the best possible results during recovery.
Most patients do not have major side effects during treatment with ampicillin and sulbactam. Stomach upset, diarrhea, and irritation and itchiness at the injection site are the most common reactions. It is possible to develop a fever, chills, fatigue, nausea, and painful cramps, though such side effects are very rare. If a person is allergic to either sulbactam or ampicillin, he or she may experience skin hives and swelling in the airways that cause significant breathing difficulties. Since the medication is given in a hospital setting, health-care workers are able to monitor unusual reactions to the drugs and provide the appropriate treatment before serious complications occur.