Q. I was prescribed the generic antibiotic Levaquin (levofloxacin) on 6/25/13 for “walking pneumonia.” The doctor did not provide any information about the drug. The prescription was for one a day for 10 days.

After two days (2 pills) I was in such extreme pain throughout my entire body that I could not walk, get up or go down stairs. I was in a wheelchair for a week and had to use a walker for a couple of weeks more. The pain in my joints, especially my neck, upper shoulders, lower back, legs, knees, etc. was almost unbearable. 

It has now been almost eight months and I am still experiencing joint pains that seem to move around my body: one day my neck hurts; another day it’s my knees, thighs, hamstrings; then my back is affected.

When the pains began, I tried to contact the doctor. I left messages with her office that I could not tolerate the Levaquin and to please give me something else.  She apparently was calling the wrong number, (the office had both my numbers!) and never spoke to me.  Finally, after taking 6 of the pills, I decided to stop as I figured I’d be dead with 4 more!

Upon returning to the doctor a week after my first visit, I told her of my experience and that I had stopped taking the antibiotic.  She insisted my side effect reactions had nothing to do with the Levaquin and were not a result of this drug!  She told me to take 800mg of ibuprofen three times a day for the pain.

A month later in July I saw my orthopedist.  He could offer no help, but his nurse shared with me that she had had the same side effects from Levaquin and that it had been a year and she was still experiencing joint pains all over; one day here, another day there.

Going on the Internet I discovered that many other people have suffered the same side effects as I had…some for years!  I called the FDA to report the above, but was not able to get any of the required information from the pharmacy (no manufacturer, expiration date, Lot.#, etc.). I completed 5 pages of information on the FDA’s MedWatch form about side effects and such and faxed them to the FDA.  I also discovered there are some 3400 lawsuits regarding levofloxacin.

A. You are not the first person to report serious complications from levofloxacin (Levaquin). This is an antibiotic in the class called fluoroquinolones (FQs) or quinolones for short. Other medications include ciprofloxacin (Cipro), levofloxacin (Levaquin) and moxifloxacin (Avelox).

You are also correct that it is hard to complete the FDA’s MedWatch forms because it is almost impossible to get the essential information they demand (manufacturer, expiration date, Lot # and NDC number).

Here are some other somewhat similar experiences posted to our website:

“I was taking a 30-day prescription of Cipro for a prostate infection. After playing full court basketball, I awoke the next morning to knees that felt as though they were encased in concrete.

“My legs constantly ache as if I had just walked 20 miles.  Many nights I cannot sleep due to the pain in my legs and, for now, I cannot play basketball as the left knee area, in particular, is too weak.

“Ever since that time (20 months ago) I have suffered in every way imaginable. Sometimes I cannot even walk up my apartment stairs. I have seen my doctor, an acupuncturist and chiropractors. No one can make it go away. This has totally impacted my life, since I can’t play tennis and have a very hard time playing basketball. Do you have a suggestion?” Doug


“I took this medicine four years ago. I was also very physically active before taking it. After 7 days on the med, I developed body-wide tendon and nerve damage that has yet to improve. There are literally thousands of people who have been crippled.” Greg


“I had a similar experience with Cipro. I took it a year and a half ago and have had terrible joint problems ever since. The problems started almost immediately after taking Cipro. I’ve had to spend thousands on tests, physical therapy and doctors’ visits. The worst is my feet and ankles hurt so bad that walking is difficult now. I can no longer exercise without suffering days of pain. All this time, there is some improvement but much of the damage is permanent.” D.B.


“I took Levaquin on Nov.14, 2012. After 6 pills I had Achilles tendonitis, small tears, muscle aches and joint pain all over. Two years later I am still suffering from tendonitis, bursitis in my shoulder joints, fatigue and insomnia. I never ached so much in my life and it continues to get worse. I walk with a cane. There is numbness in my foot and leg diagnosed as neuropathy. Levaquin was prescribed for suspected urinary tract infection. It was contraindicated with my other meds and my age. This just should not be.

“This drug has caused permanent damage and ended most of my life activities. Doctors need to be informed what this med does and care about the consequences. I hope this antibiotic gets off the market or is used only in a life or death situation.” L.P.


We could provide dozens of other stories, but by now you have the idea. According to the Food and Drug Administration, more than 21 million people get a prescription for a quinolone antibiotic each year. Such drugs are prescribed for sinusitis, urinary tract infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, prostatitis and skin infections. Cipro has been around for decades.

The FDA issued an alert about FQs last year about neuropathy:

“This serious nerve damage potentially caused by fluoroquinolones may occur soon after these drugs are taken and may be permanent… Peripheral neuropathy is a nerve disorder occurring in the arms or legs. Symptoms include pain, burning, tingling, numbness, weakness, or a change in sensation to light touch, pain or temperature, or the sense of body position. It can occur at any time during treatment with fluoroquinolones and can last for months to years after the drug is stopped or be permanent. Patients using fluoroquinolones who develop any symptoms of peripheral neuropathy should tell their health care professionals right away.”

In addition to the nerve damage, these drugs can cause lots of other serious complications, including tendinitis or even tendon rupture. When this happens it can be a life-altering event. Joint pain and arthritis-like adverse reactions are not generally recognized as a complication of quinolones in adults, though they have been noted in children. We tend to believe the people who have reported this problem on our website rather than the official prescribing information for these antibiotics. It has taken the FDA decades to acknowledge the problems with tendons and nerves, so we would not be surprised if it takes years more for the agency to recognize the joint complications.

Unlike many of the people who have reported problems on this website, we are not calling for the banning of quinolone antibiotics. Goodness knows, we are running out of effective medications against serious infections given the degree of bacterial resistance that has evolved over the years. But doctors must inform patients of potential side effects BEFORE people start taking such drugs. Here is a list to be aware of:

FLUOROQUINOLONE SIDE EFFECTS & COMPLICATIONS:

  • Digestive distress, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, heartburn, vomiting
  • Headache, dizziness
  • Agitation, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Tendon problems, tendinitis, tendon rupture
  • Retinal detachment
  • Nerve damage, peripheral neuropathy, nerve tingling, numbness
  • Allergic reactions, skin rash, anaphylaxis (life-threatening reaction requiring immediate medical attention!)
  • Super-infections including C. diff diarrhea
  • Hallucinations, psychosis, seizures
  • Depression, suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Irregular heart rhythms, torsades de pointes, QT prolongation
  • Kidney or liver damage
  • Blood disorders
  • Arthritis, muscle pain, weakness

 

Share your own experience with FQ antibiotics below. We want to hear the pros and cons of such drugs. Let others know how such medications worked for you and what, if any, side effects you have experienced.

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  1. iris
    United States
    Reply

    I was taking Levaquin for a kidney infection and 2 days into taking it I developed severe diarrhea and abdominal pain. It has been almost a month since I took it and I’m still having abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. No doctor can tell me why this is happening. My life has been ruined by this. I can hardly leave my home due to the pain and diarrhea. I’ve already passed out from the pain several times. I don’t know how much more of this suffering I can take. I need answers..

  2. Brenda
    Virginia
    Reply

    I am 66 and had a kidney infection was given Levaquin 3 days by in my arm 750mgs and 7 days by mouth 750 mgs I am in a wheelchair, and have severe shoulder pain knee pain and numbness in both feet I don’t know what comes next.

  3. JC
    Reply

    I am almost 32 F from India and this drug has really crippled my life. I was prescribed Levofloxacin last September for three months!! This was for TB. And within 48 hours, I suffered from severe joint aches especially knee. I couldn’t sit, stand, was in pain even at rest. I went back to the doctor twice but she told me to keep taking the pill..Finally after 2 months I couldn’t take more. I stopped the drug, but the pain didn’t go away. I am living on painkillers now, my knee pain flares up anytime. I have cancelled so many vacation plans, I cant dance, cant cycle, cant walk fast…I was absolutely normal before I had the pill. I have got MRI also done, been seeing an orthopaedic regularly who said they shouldn’t have given me the drug particularly when I am severely allergic to a sister drug – ofloxacin. It is extremely disheartening. Wish the doctor had told me about the side-effects. The doctor who prescribed this originally acknowledged that the drug causes severe pain but then later said it’s not proven that the drug is behind it. I took it for two months! When will this get ok??

  4. hamid
    Reply

    I am 46 and on April 12, 2013 I was prescribed Levofloxacin 750 mg. for 10 days because the “doctor” couldn’t figure out what’s wrong with me and he was worried I had traveled abroad. So he threw a dart in the dark and prescribed me this “medicine”
    After taking 7 pills I had mild sensation on back of my left heel, so Dr. ordered me not to take the remaining pills and stay off my left foot.
    During the course of medication, I also had insomnia, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, but once I stopped the medication the psychotic effects all went away fairly quickly.
    I completely immobilized myself for two full weeks, even though I was very active before, working out (cardio. and weight training) every other day.
    However, my left ankle tendon got worst. I started feeling burning pain on the back of my heal and tingling and needles and pins feeling at the bottom of my heal. The pain is come and go, increases if I stand or walk and decreases if I rest and put no weight on it.
    For two weeks I was on crutches (and wheelchair in airport) until I saw two orthopedic doctors (they did MRI and bunch of tests all neg.), who told me not to worry about tendon rupture and if I can bear the pain then it is OK for me to walk. Only, I need to wear high heal and place a heal support in my shoe and prescribed me anti-inflammatory medicine. At this point my pain is 1-3 in scale of 10.
    I also have been taking multivitamin, magnesium 500 and Vitamin E.
    After two weeks pain was worst, having pain 1-5 on scale of 10, and my right foot started having the same symptoms as I had on my left foot early on.
    I had other issues too. One episode of sever pain in shoulder (first right then left), 3 cases of severe muscle weakness and muscle pain in my calf and the back of my tights, 3 episode of lightheadedness and almost fainting, and one case of right bicep tendon tenderness. But, they don’t seem to be persistent and are fine now. Also, my left calf muscle size is visibly reduced by about 25% compare to my right calf. Dr. says it is because of me staying off of it (I hope he is right)
    I try to keep in shape by swimming and doing stomach crunches, but despite my best effort my health and body are visibly degraded.
    From January 2014, I lost all symptoms for almost full 3 months so I was very happy, thinking I have dodged the bullet. However, in April, again I started having off and on pain in my left Achilles tendon.
    Things got worst. I have had sever and continuous pain/burning sensation on my left Achilles tendon for the past 3 weeks
    It seems like I have to live with this pain for ever and I may well be permanently disabled.
    It is hard to believe this drug is available. This drug should be only given in life and death situation. I have already filed a complaint on with FDA MedWatch and I encourage anybody who suffers from the adverse effects of this drug to do the same. I think the side effect for this drug is overtly under reported.

  5. L
    Reply

    At age 45, I ended up with a staph infection (MSSA), and was prescribed Levaquin. I ended up with a rash on my chest and tight breathing. At my request, the doctor prescribed another antibiotic, doxycycline hyclate. The staph infection returned 4 months later (same location), so I was put on Bactrim DS followed by a Hibiclens 4% daily body wash and a Bactroban Nasal 2% treatment, and kept the location swabbed daily with alcohol and povidone iodine (2x per day). That did the trick. I had no problems with the doxycycline or Bactrim DS.
    I have noticed that, since the staph infection, I regularly have burning in both legs and chronic insomnia. I also experienced a vitreous detachment in one eye and then, two months later, a retinal tear in the same eye.

  6. L.k.
    Reply

    I was given levofloxacin 500 mg for a sore throat. After 4 pills, I woke up this morning with tendinitis in my elbow and experienced some light headedness, both printed symptoms, particularly for those over 60. I’m 66 and very fit, so the tendon problem is of concern. I’ve had Cipro in the past with no obvious side effects. I stopped the meds and will see where it goes, but I regret taking the medicine.

  7. Kahleen
    Reply

    Very good thought Trish, but I would think that the doctor prescribing the medicine would take that responsibility.

  8. edna
    Reply

    @Trish- interesting. I wish I had done more research when I was sick, but the operative word is SICK, & I was with walking pneumonia, very sick, no time or energy to do that, then you rely on the docs. I won’t take that Levaquin again and steering clear of cipro too!
    tx for the info.

  9. SB
    Reply

    Had a sinus infection that didnt go away after 10 days of 1,750 ml of Augmentin. Went back to Dr, gave me Levaquin to take for 7 days, 500 mls. Took one dose, felt better after a few hours, however, it gave me insomnia and felt like I was in a fog. Took the second pill then decided to do some research. I am terrified by what I found. I immediately drank a bunch of water, ate food, took Vitamin C, ate yogurt, and bathed in Epsom salts. I am 35 years old, no health issues. I am praying this will not affect me but I am so scared. It’s scary to know that months down the road symptoms can start to appear. Is there anything else I can do to rid my body of this?

  10. Trish
    Reply

    Reading these comments makes me wonder: is it possible much of the problem is too high a dose? I just listened to a news report that concluded men and women should not be prescribed the same dosage of a drug.

  11. ss
    Reply

    I developed weird joint pain in my legs on the next to last day of a z-pack (azithromycin) so didn’t take the last dose. I was told the meds stay in the body for several days after taking them. The pain disappeared 5 days after halting the meds. Years ago, I took Cipro on several occasions for UTIs with no ill effects. Now, several years later, I have tendonitis on either side of both of my Achilles that are not responding to PT and/or new orthotics. I don’t know if Cipro has a delayed reaction. I do know that the Z-pack gave me joint pain that disappeared shortly after stopping the meds.

  12. DJ
    Reply

    A year and a half ago I was hospitalized with severe gut pain. I was tested for various possible reasons and was given, among other medications, Cipro. Six months later I was undergoing leg wraps for lymphedema for three months. During this treatment my feet became numb. Pulling on compression stockings made my right arm begin to hurt. That has never stopped.
    Now my shoulder and arm are hurting all the time, my feet are still numb, and I still wear compression stockings. After reading your article, I am quite certain Cipro was a contributing factor is these afflictions. Lymphedema, numbness in both feet, and pain in shoulder and upper arm muscle.
    Six months ago I was given an antibiotic for an eye infection, but I don’t know the name of that medication. Now I am very wary of all such antibiotics.

  13. Mrs. Mickey Garcia
    Reply

    Since I have started reading your articles I have become healthier. When you get older… the md’s just give you a pill. If that pill doesn’t work… another pill… and on and on and on. I now read all of the papers on the meds also… question the MD. The younger MDs do not mind the questions it is the older generation that rather you not ask questions.

  14. omar
    Reply

    you can actually get some of that info from the prescription label like NDC # and manufacturer name. the other’s gonna have to call the pharmacy you filled the prescription and ask for the lot # and other info off the bottle they used to fill the RX.

  15. omar
    Reply

    I agree with on this, although I’m a pharmacy tech, but I’m against the use of medication for every little thing that arises with your body, people need to do their own research about everything concerning their health, and stop taking shortcuts with medications.

  16. Kahleen
    Reply

    I appreciate TMI on both sides of the issue. Thanks to all the people who wrote in. It has been very helpful to know; even though I have never had to take the drug.

  17. Kahleen
    Reply

    Looks like the two different Labs were producing the same drug with different ingredients (very scary!

  18. KB
    Reply

    I have problems with asthma and infections in my lungs. If I didn’t take Levaquin I don’t know what I’d do. I usually end up taking it once a year. I don’t usually read these types of things because I think they tend to put fear in people. Some people develop every single side effect they read about! I would suggest caution when reading these stories if you are such a person!

  19. The UCSD Fluoroquinolone Effects Study
    Reply

    UCSD Fluoroquinolone Effects Study
    Have you taken an antibiotic such as Cipro (ciprofloxacin), Levaquin (levofloxacin), or Avelox (moxifloxacin)? Would you be willing to help in a survey-based medical research study?
    Dr. Beatrice A. Golomb and her colleagues at the University of California, San Diego are conducting a new study to identify and describe side effects and risk factors for good and bad outcomes involving antibiotics in the fluoroquinolone class. Other example fluoroquinolones include Zymar (gatifloxacin), Floxin (ofloxacin), Zagam (sparfloxacin), Trovan (trovafloxacin), Tavanic, and Vigamox.
    Whether you believe you have experienced side effects or you believe you have tolerated them, you are invited to participate in this voluntary study. Participants possessing English language fluency from all countries are accepted.
    Study participants will be asked to complete questionnaire(s). By participating in these surveys, you can help us further understand the effects of fluoroquinolones and report findings to the medical community (including prescribing physicians) and the general public. Surveys will cover your overall health, well-being, fluoroquinolones taken, and symptoms; impacts on your life and career; and your personal story.
    For those without side effects, there is currently just one survey taking 20-30 minutes to complete.
    For those having adverse effects, there are currently 3 (voluntary) questionnaires that can be done separately, each taking approximately 40-90 minutes (time varies per individual). Each survey addresses a different set of concerns related to fluoroquinolone effects. More voluntary surveys may be available in the future. Compensation for taking the surveys is not available.
    If there is a chance you are interested in participating, please visit our website at:
    http://www.fqstudy.info
    for further information on this important study.
    If you know of anyone else who might consider participating, then please pass on our website address. We truly appreciate your participation and referrals.
    -The UCSD Fluoroquinolone Effects Study

  20. Maureen M.
    Reply

    I was prescribed Valacyclovir lgm for shingles had it filled at my local supermarket. The manufacturer for the product was Cadista Pharmaceuticals. The seven day course of meds. did very little to help my symptoms. When additional blisters appeared I returned to my physician.
    I had another script for Valacyclovir 1gm filled at a local small drugstore. The medication they gave me was manufactured by Roxanne Labs (same dose and duration). Within two days I had relief from most of the pain and itching.
    Is it possible that all generics are not created equal?

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