Antibiotics and stethoscope

Antibiotics are magical. Americans think of such drugs as miracle medicines. It all stems from the discovery of penicillin. Here was a drug that changed history. People who would have normally died from infections could be saved. As a result, most antibiotics, including Levaquin (levofloxacin), are perceived as highly effective and extremely safe. But we have heard from far too many people that levofloxacin left them with long-lasting disabilities. Here is just one such story:

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 in this category include ciprofloxacin (Cipro), gemifloxacin (Factive)levofloxacin (Levaquin)moxifloxacin (Avelox) and norfloxacin (Noroxin).

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) from the pill bottle.

The FDA Comes Clean on Levaquin (levofloxacin) & Other FQs:

Quinolone antibiotics have been around for more than 30 years. Doctors prescribe these drugs for a range of infections including:

  • UTIs or urinary tract infections
  • URIs or upper respiratory tract infections such as sinusitis or pneumonia
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Skin infections
  • Bacterial prostatitis

For many of those years prescribers assumed that side effects were not that big a deal. Most did not realize that adverse drug reactions could persist even after the medications were stopped.

Millions of people have taken drugs like Cipro (ciprofloxacin) or Levaquin (levofloxacin) without being informed of potential problems. In 2016 the FDA issued the following safety communication:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is advising that the serious side effects associated with fluoroquinolone antibacterial drugs generally outweigh the benefits for patients with acute sinusitis, acute bronchitis, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections who have other treatment options. For patients with these conditions, fluoroquinolones should be reserved for those who do not have alternative treatment options.

An FDA safety review has shown that fluoroquinolones when used systemically (i.e. tablets, capsules, and injectable) are associated with disabling and potentially permanent serious side effects that can occur together. These side effects can involve the tendons, muscles, joints, nerves, and central nervous system.”

Prior to this announcement, many physicians discounted reports from patients of long-lasting, disabling reactions to FQs. Even with the FDA’s safety communication, many health professionals do not warn patients in advance what could happen. The only way to appreciate the gravity of the situation is to read actual accounts from real people:

Stories from Readers:

Doug shared his joint problems:

“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?”

Ellen reported this reaction to levofloxacin:

“I have had side effects from levofloxacin and I’ve been getting the runaround from the doctor’s office. It has affected my hands, my fingers, my knees, my ankles, my elbows and my hip. It moves around and I haven’t been able to work because of it. I never know how bad one day is going to be to the next.”

Greg has tendon problems:

“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.”

D.B. is another person who cannot exercise after taking an FQ:

“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.”

L.P. reveals that it does not take a big dose to cause long-lasting agony:

“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.”

The People’s Pharmacy Warnings About Fluoroquinolones:

We could provide hundreds of other stories, but by now you have the idea. (You can read more in the comment section below or at this article.

New FDA Warning For Popular Cipro and Levaquin Antibiotics!

We have been warning about serious FQ side effects for over 20 years. We think the FDA was way too slow to alert health professionals and patients to some of the most serious complications of these drugs. According to the Food and Drug Administration, more than 21 million people get a prescription for a quinolone antibiotic each year.

The FDA issued an alert about FQs in 2013 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 have not generally been recognized as a long-lasting complication of quinolones in adults, though they have been noted in children. We long believed the people who reported this problem on our website rather than the official prescribing information for these antibiotics. It took the FDA decades to acknowledge the problems with tendons and nerves. The agency was also slow 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 fluoroquinolone side effects BEFORE people start taking such drugs. Here is a list to be aware of:

Fluoroquinolone Side Effects and 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 and joint 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.

Revised: 3/23/17

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  1. Maureen

    OMG, I cannot believe so many people have been affected by this drug! I was prescribed this drug in February 2017 for a very bad chest infection. A few weeks later my shoulders and down the front of my arms started hurting as if I tore tendons, and lately it’s been my legs and ankles too. I cannot stand this pain. Every day and every night, it just never stops. Plus, I get RLS that lasts for hours! I just found this site. Am curious to see if anyone else had the horrible knee and leg pain? Now I know: others have it too! What are we supposed to do about it?? I am going out of my mind with this pain!! It can’t possibly get worse! I hope someone helps us, please!

  2. Jim

    Began Levofloxacin 500mg x 7 days April 25, 2017 per V.A. clinic doctor. By May 1, 2017 I chose to stop dosage based on concerns regarding leg pain and side effects discovered on line. Currently have severe pain in left leg to the hip. Less severe pain in right leg. V.A. doc denied the pain could be caused by the meds. It is not twenty two days of pain unrelieved by analgesics.

  3. Laurie

    I hope my situation is not what I am reading in the article. I went to urgent care after being sick, bad cough, swollen glands, sore throat. Doctor said negative for strep, did an x ray, came back pneumonia. She prescribed Lexaquin for 10 days. Day 4 of the antibiotic, some relief, went to work for 2 days. Weekend followed, joint pain in knees, wrists and fingers, muscle pain in thighs, chest pain in front and back, sick to stomach. I went to the doctor today, 1 dose left and thinking I was getting worse. New doctor said your chest x rays came back normal, and you are having a severe reaction to the Lexaquin and to stop taking it.
    She ran blood tests which came back negative and a few others that won’t be back until tomorrow. In the mean time take ibuprofen and plenty of fluids. I am currently having chest and joint pain.

  4. Allen B

    Levofloxacin after 3 daily doses has progressed to near inability to walk. I have little gastrocnemeous strength. No Md has been able to improve my symptoms. I am scheduled for Physical Therapy. Several patient entries indicated that PT was no help.

  5. Cynthia Lewis

    I took Levofloacin for pneumonia and one day after finishing the antibiotic, my knees started burning and I had pain just trying to walk. It has been over a month and the pain seems to get worse rather then better. I had also taken prednisone for my pneumonia and from what I have read it makes it worse. I feel like I’m going to be crippled. When I sit very long I’m in so much pain when I stand up. it seems a little better if I walk a little but if I walk much then I’m in more pain.

  6. Cindy

    I stumbled across side effects on accident. When I was on Facebook one day, I put Reynaud’s syndrome in the search box. I kept reading different people’s stories with Reynaud’s syndrome and found they had all sorts of other things wrong with them that I have been suffering from for years, I was shocked to see they all had these ailments from Levaquin.

    I got pneumonia in October of 2011. After being hospitalized for 3 days and given several antibiotics and three different steroids I was released. Of course I had numerous scripts to fill to continue to take at home. One of those was levaquin. Ever since then, everytime I get a cold, bronchitis or recently in January, pneumonia again my doctor prescribes me levaquin, sometimes back to back if I’m not getting better.

    So for 7 years I have been prescribed levaquin, several times each year since I get bronchitis often. I’ve had severe neck, upper and lower back pain. Numbness and tingling in my arms, hands, legs and feet. Aching joints, unbearable in my knees and ankles at times. Reynaud’s Syndrome which used to only happen when it was cold, lately I’ve been getting it more often, even in 60 and 70 degree weather. I suffer from insomnia, restless leg syndrome which is also felt in my arms at times. Bouts with headaches, dizziness and blurred vision. I have severe acid indigestion that has caused 2nd degree like burns in my esophagus, at night once in awhile I would wake up gagging and choking on acid reflux coming out of my nose and mouth, this last month it’s been happening alot.

    Within 5 months(October -February ) I was prescribed levaquin 4 times. At times I go through nausea, it seems like it happens for up to a week at a time. I am either constipated for weeks or have diarrhea, I rarely have normal stools even when eating healthy. I’m gonna be 48 and always had 20/20 vision and at a rapid speed my eyesight has taken a dive. I know this happens gradually when we age but mine has progressed it seems like out of nowhere. I’m often irritable but I just chalked it up to my pain and lack of sleep.

    After reading articles and people’s testimonies on Facebook and now researching here, I wonder if many of my problems are due to my taking levaquin. When I go to my next dr appointment in May, I’m going to discuss all this with my doctor. Thanks for the informative article and to the people for their testimonies. I have so many things wrong with me that I didn’t have before…Makes me wonder if this is why.

  7. Miranda

    5 months ago I took Levaquin after not responding to a zpack for a sinus infection. I couldn’t get out of bed and was in serious pain from it. I thought it was from being sick. Shortly after stopping levaquin I completely lost my sense of smell and taste and my body is still in pain. I have been to an ENT and had MRIs and catscans and found no reason for it. I recently spoke to a nurse in urgent care about an unrelated issue and mentioned this. She immediate said Levaquin was know for this.

  8. Charles

    April 24, 2017

    Took Levafloxacin for 10 days and then developed pain in both hamstrings. Pain has continued for 7 weeks now in both hamstrings and hips. Difficult to squat and straighten up from sitting in a chair. Degree of pain varies throughout the day and from day to day. Occasionally, also pain in shoulders.

    No suggestions from ENT other no activity or exercise: walk or stroll.
    I had sinusitis issues for over 40 years and Levaquin is far worst than the sinusitis. I am 66 yrs old. Levaquin has completely screwed up my retirement: can’t exercise, can’t bike, can’t ski, can’t garden

  9. Joanne

    I have many of the same problems as listed above for 4 years. The main problem is pain in feet and ankles. Walking has gotten difficult.

  10. Barb

    In the fall of 2014 I had recently turned 79. I had had a fall a couple of months before resulting in a torn hamstring tendon, but had recovered full function within a couple of months without surgery, then I had another fall hitting my knee pretty hard.

    My knee and leg swelled up and there was a substantial lump on my knee. I went in to the clinic to see if it might be infected. An internist I saw there said it was definitely infected and I should be on antibiotics. There was a difference of opinion; the emergency room doctor said it was not. I decided to play it safe and took the prescription for a sulfa drug. I soon developed an allergic rash, and was advised to stop taking it.

    I was then put on another antibiotic (can’t think of the name at the moment). I was a bit concerned about it because it has been linked to C diff, but although it wasn’t causing any problems I went back into another clinic for advice. The doctor there, without giving me any warning, given the increased risk due to my age, took me off of the other antibiotic and prescribed levaquin.

    On about day 8, my shoulders started popping, and I knew somthing was wrong. Since then I have never been the same. My legs became tired and achy, and even so I am an active person. I continued bicycling walking and recently started working out at the gym again.

    Suddenly, I developed pain where my hamstring tendon had healed, making walking too difficult. I also began to notice that my muscles seemed to have melted awayinspite of continually trying to stay in shape. I can’t help believing this is the levaquin.

  11. Pat A

    I have neck pain following levaquine for 1 week. Terrible pain nothing helps. I was put on prednisone 6 day pac and had some relief first few days now pain returned, I can’t sleep with the insomnia from prednisone and cannot find a comfy position to sleep. Heat cold, TENS, even acupuncture hasn’t helped much. How long will this last – few weeks, months or years ?

  12. Mary

    I went to an Urgent Care clinic on 03/12/17 feeling ill. The diagnosed me with Sinusitus and prescribed me the generic for Levaquin (5 pills). After 3 pills my legs started hurting and I could hardly walk. I felt really weak. I have spells of feeling really hot like I am going to pass out. I have been having bad headaches, can’t sleep very well and now I hurt all over my body. My legs are not hurting quite as bad, however, my hips wrist, shoulders & finger joints are hurting bad. I can’t move very fast. My right hand fingers go numb and it takes along time to get the numbness to stop. The base of my neck also hurts. I am very concerned it is not going to go away. I was not informed by the clinic about the side effect in advance. When my legs were hurting so bad I called them and was told that was a side effect of Levaquin. However, even then they did not tell me I might start having all these other issues. Does anyone have any ideas about what can be done about this?

  13. Ted
    Kingston, NY

    I have serious disability in my lower legs due to taking an 8 day dosage of Levaquin back in August of 2008 after gall bladder surgery. I ruptured the Achilles tendon in one leg and have serious neuropathy in the other.

  14. Ted
    Kingston, NY

    In August of 2008 I was prescribed Levaquin. The following March (7 months later) I ruptured my Achilles tendon. Then in December of 2013 I developed severe neuropathy in my leg.

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