Our first concern about fluoroquinolone antibiotics occurred in July of 1994 when we received the following question from a reader of our newspaper column:
“I often have side effects from medicines, but have never experienced anything like Floxin. I took it for a severe sinus infection followed by pneumonia last winter. After three days of utter misery and a rash on my back, I started hallucinating. Are there other people who have had a bad reaction to this antibiotic?”
After some checking we learned that this kind of antibiotic (a fluoroquinolone) could indeed cause “hallucinations, visual disturbances confusion, dizziness and seizures.”
One month later we heard from another reader:
“My heart went out to the woman who suffered hallucinations while taking the antibiotic Floxin. I too suffered a violent reaction to this drug. I took it for two days and became very nauseated. By the third day I not only felt listless, nervous and sick, but when I went to bed I couldn’t sleep and began having violent multi-colored hallucinations.
“After two nights of almost no sleep, accompanied by hallucinations, I asked my physician for something else. At first she was reluctant, but when she understood there was no way I’d take any more Floxin, she gave me a different prescription. I think Floxin is a frightening drug and I hope you will warn your readers that the side effects of Floxin may be more common than previously thought.”
Not long after we heard about these problems we talked with the journalist Stephen Fried about his wife’s experience with Floxin. She took one Floxin pill to treat a urinary tract infections and suffered severe neurological symptoms that lasted years. The incredible story is documented in the book Bitter Pills. They called their experience being “Floxed.”
Fast forward to Feb. 14, 2010, and the comment from J & G posted on this Web site. Quinolone-type antibiotics are still causing serious complications. We don’t know why some people are so susceptible to these drugs, but there is clearly a problem, and to this day many physicians seem unaware of the psychological and neurological complications of drugs such as Cipro, Floxin and Levaquin (the generic names are ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin and levofloxacin).
“My husband and I were very healthy marathon-running 35-year-olds. Two months previous to this we had both just qualified for the cheapest life insurance for the healthiest groups.
“My husband and I were prescribed Cipro (for him) and Levaquin (for me) for a stomach bug they couldn’t diagnose. My MD said to me when I questioned whether or not I had to take it “well, if it’s a virus, nothing bad will happen.”
“Within half an hour after talking the antibiotics we both had severe anxiety, insomnia (to the point where we were only sleeping 2 or 3 hours a night), nightmares, diarrhea (we had episodes of it every few days and I am still having diarrhea six months later even though I have tested negative for C. diff four times), strange thoughts, muscle pain, tingling, and shooting pains in our arms and legs.
“I have never experienced anything like it in my life. Neither of us had ever had any reaction to a drug before.
“We were off work for about 11 weeks. Six months later the symptoms are starting to subside although my husband still has tingling and weird nightmares and I have problems occasionally. We have seen nine doctors and they either outright deny or have not admitted that the Cipro or Levaquin could have anything to do with our symptoms.
“We finally saw an infectious disease doctor at a major hospital who said he had had three other patients who felt they had the same long lasting effects from either Cipro or Levaquin, but he couldn’t find any evidence to support it.
“Two other infectious disease doctors suggested that we had ciguatoxin poisoning, but we had not eaten the types of fish that can cause it.
“When we pointed out that we both had started these symptoms within about half an hour of taking the medicine (even though my husband and I took the antibiotics two weeks apart from each other) they flat out discounted that it could be the cause.
“We finally just decided we just had to help ourselves to get better and we started to eat a lot of live sauerkraut (which seems to have helped get our digestion somewhat back) and eat very healthfully (lots of greens and brown rice) and get a lot of rest. That seems to be the only thing that has helped. We will not take a fluoroquinolone antibiotic ever again.”
J & G