angry doctor

They’re called fluoroquinolones (FQs) or quinolones for short. Tens of millions of prescriptions have been written for:

  • Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
  • Gemifloxacin (Factive)
  • Levofloxacin (Levaquin)
  • Moxifloxacin (Avelox)
  • Norfloxacin (Noroxin)
  • Ofloxacin (Floxin)

These antibiotics have been on the market for more than 30 years. Physicians and patients assumed that they were quite safe. These drugs were routinely prescribed for sinus, lung and urinary tract infections with barely a second thought. But now the FDA has issued a stern warning (May 12, 2016):

“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 sinusitis, bronchitis, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections who have other treatment options. For patients with these conditions, fluoroquinolone 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.”

We Have been Warning You about Cipro and Levaquin Antibiotics!

For more than 20 years we have been warning readers of The People’s Pharmacy that FQ antibiotics posed serious risks. The FDA has been very slow to 1) recognize the risks and 2) warn health professionals and patients how bad the problems could be. But a patient group called the “Fluoroquinolone Toxicity 24/7 Forum” pulled no punches in describing how some patients react to this class of antibiotics:

“Fluoroquinolone toxicity has been like an atomic bomb exploding in their bodies damaging their muscles and scrambling their DNA to the point many are too sick to work, too weak to walk.”

In July 1994 we heard from a reader of our syndicated newspaper column who had received a prescription for 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?”

People who have experienced bad reactions to fluoroquinolones sometimes call themselves “Floxies.” That’s because flox is part of the name for such drugs. Other people described being “Floxed” by these antibiotics. What is so extraordinary is that the side effects can be permanent in some cases. Only now does the FDA seem to have realized that FQs like Cipro and Levaquin antibiotics have been prescribed way to promiscuously and the complications can be irreversible.

Fluoroquinolone Side Effects:

  • Tendon problems, tendinitis, tendon rupture (potentially disabling)
  • Digestive distress, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, heartburn, vomiting; super-infections, including C. diff diarrhea
  • Arthritis, muscle pain, weakness
  • Headache, dizziness, anxiety, irritability, agitation, restlessness, confusion, insomnia
  • Retinal detachment
  • Allergic reactions, skin rash, anaphylaxis (life-threatening reaction requiring immediate medical attention!)
  • Hallucinations, psychosis, seizures
  • Depression, suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Irregular heart rhythms, QT prolongation
  • Kidney or liver damage
  • Blood disorders

Symptoms of Nerve Damage from FQ Antibiotics:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Changes in sensation to light touch, pain or temperature, or the sense of body position
  • Burning, tingling, weakness

What do these Symptoms Mean for Real People?

Have your eyes glazed over yet? Whenever people see a long list of side effects they tend to tune out pretty quickly. That is why those terrible prescription drug commercials you see on TV are so successful for the pharmaceutical industry. After a few seconds people tend to ignore the calm voice of the announcer as he reads off a list of seemingly ridiculous adverse reactions. The problem is that these terrible complications do happen to people and sometimes change their lives forever:

Bonnie in San Luis Obispo, CA:

“I took Levaquin for a respiratory infection in May of 2008. I started having problems with my right leg shortly after, but didn’t make the connection to the drug. Then in October of 2008, I was prescribed Cipro for a UTI [urinary tract infection] and took one pill and could not move my arms or legs.

“I looked at the insert and noticed the black box warning of tendon ruptures which had only recently been put on fluoroquinolones. It was then I realized that I had taken the Levaquin earlier and was suffering from muscle pain and weakness. I have gotten progressively worse over the years and been to numerous doctors. I have yet to find one who will acknowledge the connection between this drug and my deteriorating condition.”

Debbie in Chicago shares this sad story:

“In the early 90’s, I took Cipro for pneumonia and could not walk for 15 months. The pain was unbearable. I lost my job and was a single Mother. The pain disappeared out of nowhere.

“In June of 2009 I took Levaquin, 2 pills total. I was healthy, happy, good job and no problems in my life. Until the pill I had a mild chest cold. I was in the doctor’s office for 10 minutes and was prescribed Levaquin. Pill #2 caused burning, painful feet. I was going to the health club after work with a co-worker. We both noticed something was really wrong with me. I had a sudden inability to walk due to horrible pain. I had to quit working out. I suffered in pain in order to work, shop, and care for my ill Mother.

“I kept the pain to myself but slept as soon as work and dinner was done. Fatigue set in quickly and everything became worse even after seeing 12 different doctors to figure out why I wasn’t able to walk and why I was in so much pain. I got the usual diagnosis of plantar fasciitis and was offered physical therapy and orthodics. Each doctor who found me getting worse had no answer.

“From June 2009 until now I have been in a wheel chair and cannot step down on my left foot. The severe pain and weakness has traveled from my foot through the whole left side of my body. I do not leave my home to socialize or shop. I only leave to see my doctor because of pain flare ups. Socializing in pain is not fun for me nor can I handle interaction. I cry daily, I am full of dread for the loss of my real self and all I worked for. ALL my dreams are gone. I still do not understand how I went to a doctor I trusted to make me well and instead he ruined my life in a very inhumane way.”

J.T. shares his horrifying psychological reaction:

“Several years ago I was prescribed Floxin. I took the first dose at bedtime. At 2:00 a.m. I woke up hallucinating that giant bats were flying around my room. It scared the heck out of me.

“Interestingly, my older sister who was a pharmacy rep at the time warned me not to take it. I shrugged her comments off as nonsense. This little brother had to learn the hard way. It was terrifying. Absolutely terrifying.

“It just makes me sad. Why do we even have to go through these experiences in the first place. Every time I hear the FDA mentioned, I simply shudder. Perhaps someone will expose the FDA similar to what has happened at the VA.”

Donnie’s mother suffered from Levaquin:

“My mother was given Levaquin and suffered terrible hallucinations, among other serious side-effects. There was talk about putting her in a nursing home.

“I found a list of side effects from Levaquin, and the doctor took her off of it. She got over the hallucinations fairly soon, but other adverse reactions to the drug persisted.”

Jay experienced another devastating complication of FQs:

“I took Cipro 8 years ago and was never informed of possible side-effects because they weren’t known yet. I’m STILL experiencing inflammation of my tendons and ligaments, particularly my Achilles’ tendons. It can be crippling, and I have a part-time gig as a freakin’ fitness instructor!

“During one flare-up I also experienced a partially detatched retina, and during other episodes of swollen tendons I experienced a peculiar muscle weakness that felt like I was coming down with the flu. I also had a persistent aching in my joints. These episodes can linger for WEEKS before they resolve.”

The Long Lasting Effects of Cipro and Levaquin Antibiotics:

Not everyone gets over FQ adverse reactions. Some people report that years later they are still suffering. The FDA seems to have finally acknowledged this when it stated that fluoroquinolones: “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.”

The agency warns patients to:

“contact your health care professional immediately if you experience any serious side effects while taking your fluoroquinolone medicine. Some signs and symptoms of serious side effects include tendon, joint and muscle pain, a “pins and needles” tingling or pricking sensation, confusion, and hallucinations. Patients should talk with your health care professional if you have any questions or concerns.”

The only trouble with such advice is that for some patients it could be too late. Just one or two pills can produce lasting harm. Talking with your health care professional after the horse is out of the barn may not do much good to reverse the damage. Let’s hope that the new FDA warning to avoid FQ antibiotics for uncomplicated infections will be heeded by doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

Share your own story below in the comment section and please vote on this article by checking the stars at the top of the page.

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  1. Ms. T
    Reply

    I took levaqiun years ago for a recurring urinary infection. I asked for the drug because I heard from a friend who knew someone just like me that the doctors could not treat to make go away until this medicine. Although it was expensive for seven bills($100), it cured me. I thought I was going to die. My my daughter is having the same system that I had with a urinary tract infection. Doctors are treating her with the usual meds. and it is not helping. I want to ask her doctor to prescribe Levaquin for her. Her pain just as mine was is debilitating. Someone please advise me on what I should do.

  2. Shar
    S California
    Reply

    In 2014 I had a reaction to Bactrim. At first when I started taking it for cellulitis on my right thigh my body felt like I was dying. My whole body ached like it had a bad case of the flu. But I continued to take it thinking it’s trying to rid the infection. In a couple of weeks my knee seemed to separate and slide over to the right. I tried to stand on it. It hurt at first but then I was ok. For several days I was going through the same thing, but now my knee was so painful I had to use my left leg as I tried to avoid putting pressure on the right. Within a few more weeks the pain moved up not to just the knee but to my upper right side above the hip.

    I was in intense pain. But never really got answers I needed. I think I had to have had a tear inside the knee or something. Not only that, my tongue would get spasms that lasted only about 5 seconds maybe. Then when spasm was over the inside of my tongue would be very painful. I mentioned it to my advocate, and she took no concern. So I never brought it back up. Same with my Bactrim reaction with the knee. We were on different pages. A few months later my tongue split open under the tongue with pus. The spasms stopped but I now and then get pains inside the tongue that hurt very bad at times.

    Two years later I caught an infection that landed me in a hospital. A bronchial pneumonia infection. I told the doc I had a reaction to Bactrim, and I lost the ability to walk well and also told him about my tongue. So wondering why on earth would he give me IV the cipro and levaquin,knowing it’s crippling. I had it IV for 4 days. They had me walk around the ward before I left. I was losing balance, and my equilibrium was off. I figured it must be from the sickness and being weak.

    I was sent home with another week’s supply of steroids to take. My coordination was off. I had to hold onto something for balance. Two years later I still have to be holding something since my balance is way off. But worse then that, my skull feels like it is separating. I can’t do anything without massive sweats, and every muscle and the bones are wearing fast. I pretty much ended up in bed by a couple months after the cipro with levaquin in 2016.

    Too weak to go to a doctor. Never even been seen after I left the hospital. Lost capacity to hold urine and sometimes bowel. I don’t know what to do other then wait to die. Is there any way to reverse this. How can it be OK for doctors to cripple you? My advocate said, sometimes you have to deal with side effects to cure the other. This just doesn’t seem right.

    Who do we report our side effects to? I would like to know if there is a cure.
    I’m now a senior, and I don’t have a doc. Too weak and in pain to see one.

  3. Katie
    Boston
    Reply

    My mother started taking this pill 5 days ago, and yesterday she unexpectedly died in the middle of the day. Her heart just stopped beating. There is no history of heart disease in my family. I see now one of the effects is an abnormal heart arrhythmia. This drug killed my relatively healthy 65 year-old mother.

  4. Karlicia
    ID
    Reply

    I was prescribed levaquin for a sinus infection. Within two weeks of taking it I could hardly get out of a chair and moving was painful and exhausting. This lasted over 3 years. No longer could I walk around the block, stand in one place to cook dinner, all my activities ceased and I sat in a chair and watched the world go by. My calves were the most affected, but it affected my whole body, crippling my hands and feet. Sleep was the worse as the pain was so terrible the only way I could sleep was to knock myself out with ambien every 4 hours. I think giving a patient levaquin for anything other than an acute life saving situation should be a criminal offense. That doctor ruined 3 years of my life with the scratch of her pen.

  5. Nicki
    Reply

    I was prescribed Levaquin for a mastoid infection that would not go away. After day four, I broke out in severe hives all over my body that took two weeks to subside. Five months later I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I have no family history, had perfect glucose and A1C results in prior tests, and was 44 years old…definitely not the norm to be diagnosed with this. When I asked if taking Levaquin caused this, my primary care, endo, and two residents emphatically said “no.” Does anyone know if others have had this experience?

  6. David
    Virginia
    Reply

    Took Levaquin for Pneumonia. After 1 pill my shoulders hurt. Called Hospital that prescribed me the pills and was told to keep taking them because I was only going to be on them for 6 days. On day 2 both of my knees started hurting. Now 2 months later, my knees hurt, my shoulders hurt, my neck hurts and my stomach hurts.

  7. Thinkingaboutit
    ID
    Reply

    I think that any drug should be taken with extreme caution because of the side effects, but I also think that many of the problems that people are associating with this drug are probably coincidence and not linked directly to taking the drug (especially once) because there are too many extenuating factors not accounted for such as: age, lifestyle, underlying conditions and genetics. While the side effects are real, they are still very rare (you need to consider that millions of people have probably taken these drugs without incidence over the past 30 years) regardless, it is good to be aware of anything that we put into our bodies. Also, it might be good to remember that if left untreated, the conditions that this drug is meant to treat also kills people.

    • Jones
      UT
      Reply

      Regardless whether the side effects of taking this class of drugs is directly or indirectly related to an adverse reactions, the reality for people who have bad reactions to these drugs is debilitating. Sure, it would be better if prescribers had more information about genetics and other underlying conditions, but in absence of more thorough bases upon which to choose medications for patients, it seems that the medical providers, the pharmaceutical company, and the FDA should take more accountability for adverse reactions and the protection of vulnerable patients.

      I agree that as individuals we should be more informed about our options and potential side effects, and we could probably give more thorough medical histories to our providers. It wasn’t until recently that my family was “floxed”, so we were unaware of the magnitude of the side effects for some people. It seems that this level of adverse impact should be more thoroughly discussed between prescriber and patient, and more openly acknowledged among the medical and pharmaceutical communities. Thank you to everyone here who has shared your story!

  8. Lee
    TX
    Reply

    I was given Cipro for strep throat in 2010. My previous experience with it several years earlier had been that it made me nauseous, but this time the side effects were much worse. I became suicidally depressed, to the point that my husband was afraid to leave me by myself. I talked to my doctor and she took me off it immediately. Blessedly, the black depression cleared up.

    Years after this I developed diverticulitis, and a different doctor wanted to put me on Cipro and Flagyl, the most commonly prescribed antibios for diverticulitis. I wouldn’t let him. He gave me Augmentin, and that worked just fine. I’ve had diverticulitis several times since then, usually on a weekend (so an ER visit), and all the ER docs want to prescribe the Cipro/Flagyl combo, and look at me like I’m some kind of weirdo when I say I can’t take Cipro. I just dig in my heels and ask for the Augmentin. You’d think I was asking for marijuana or meth, the looks I get.

  9. k
    NC
    Reply

    I want to thank you, Joe and Terry, for helping me avoid a significant potential harm. At an ER visit a few days ago, they incidentally found I had a urinary tract infection, and prescribed Cipro. I said I had a feeling that I shouldn’t take it, but couldn’t remember why or where I got that idea. They told me Cipro wasn’t on my allergy list so should be no problem. I took the rx but decided I was not going to fill it until I did more research.
    I checked your site when I got home, and there it was – the source of information I must have seen in the past. You noted the risks Cipro poses for causing or worsening peripheral neuropathy. I have that. It is listed as a diagnosis in my medical record. Had I taken that drug I could have had increased and potentially permanent nerve damage.
    My primary care doctor kindly worked me in to see her the next day and I am now on a different antibiotic.
    Thank you, and thank you to the readers who wrote to share their experiences. It helped me and I am grateful.

  10. Tressa
    Missouri
    Reply

    I’m shocked. Been taking Cipro for urinary tract infections for about 20 years off & on. At age 37, I shouldn’t have arthritis so bad it’s hard to work a full time job and nerve problems in my feet and joint pain. Just when you think your getting help for your problem, which i was grateful for the relief. Certainly wish this info was available years ago. Im saddened by all this. Truly.

  11. Lisa
    GA
    Reply

    I had a very bad ear infection and sinus problems. When the Dr. looked at my ear, he said you have a lot of fluid but I do not see where you need any antibiotics. I had to return in two days which was on a weekend so I saw a different doctor in the same building. This doctor gave me only 250 mg of a z pack.

    When I was done with this, it did not get rid of the infection. I went to a walk in facility and the Dr. there said, I can tell you do not feel good. That Dr. said that I needed to be on a high dose of prednisone and antibiotics. This still did not clear up the infection. Later I got a new Doctor and ended up taking Levaquin 500mg for 7 days and more prednisone.

    This helped a great deal but I feel like I need another round of different antibiotics to completely heal from this sinus infection. When an infection does not get treated it just gets worse! A hair dresser told me yesterday that one of her clients, had a sore throat and thought he just had strep and ended up with septic and died at the age of 58.

  12. Deidre
    Danville, California
    Reply

    While traveling in France, I developed a urinary tract infection. A doctor who could not speak English prescribed Cipro to me. I was in such pain and discomfort with lots of bleeding, so I took the Cipro. Immediately it cleared my infection, so I only took four pills and not the twelve that he prescribed. However, a month later, while playing tennis, I totally ruptured my Achilles tendon. I was in Mexico and could not rely on help at the time, so I waited five days to go home and have surgery. The first thing that the doctor asked me was if I had taken Cipro lately. Had I known, back then, what I know now, I never would have taken this drug. It shouldn’t even be on the market with such side effects. Not sure if my aches and pains in my legs are from this or just the fact that I am getting older. At any rate, I blame the Achilles rupture on the Cipro.

  13. kirk s.
    Tucson Az
    Reply

    Anyone have anything that can help with getting better from this stuff. Please share for the rest of us. Thanks in advance.

  14. Geneva Brown
    TX
    Reply

    I was prescribed Levofloxacin. I been on these pills for three days and have to take for seven days due to being diagnosed with Walking Pneumonia. I noticed that my right leg , muscle and knee is swollen and in get pain. Whey haven’t anyone filed a class action Sue against the making. What shall we do?

    Geneva Brown

  15. Edna
    High Ridge, MO
    Reply

    I have been taking Cipro and developed a sinus infection, sore throat, drainage, etc. and last night I started losing my voice and this morning have a full fledge laryngitis and can barely speak. Is this a dangerous side effect? I, also, have had open heart and now am struggling with calcification of my regurgatative Mitral Valve prolapse. Can this be dangerous for me to keep taking it? I am allergic to Penicillin, Keflex, Sulpha Drug and Zithromax and can take Cipro and Clindamycin without allergies.

  16. David
    Highland Park, Il.
    Reply

    My life was ruined by Cipro. I have most, if not all of the symptoms reflected in this blog. The hospital where I had my surgery performed insisted that I take that antibiotic, double dose for two of the most miserable weeks of my entire life. I did all of the due diligence and I thought I was aware of the risk. The decision to use Cipro was also supported by my nefrologist. You know, professional courtesy. I knew going in that I was putting myself in jeopardy, but, the surgery I wanted was only performed in this one hospital. I also knew that the hospital was not considering my results, but instead, they were totally focused on protecting their reputation by using the nuclear option to avoid the risk of being tagged an infection risk location. I feel it is my responsibility to warn everyone faced with the same predicament. The risk is absolutely not worth the reward.

    I also feel it is my responsibility to enlighten everyone on the blog of the very positive results I’ve achieved to address the horrific and debilitating side affects of this class of fluoride antibiotics. I have studied alternative health therapies for forty years. My approach to the current crisis was limited by my CKD (also due to medical malpractice). If you don’t mind, I’ll go right to the point now.

    I had previous experience with collagen hydrolysate with good results. I stopped using the dietary supplement two years before my surgery. Thankfully, I finally recalled (very hard to focus my thoughts after Cipro) the positive results I had in the past. Within the first day of using CH, my pain level was down 60%. Increasing positive results would occur with each passing day. I had more energy and my mood was greatly improved. I also added an old friend, Now Foods pea protein, to my regimen. I changed my breakfast menu from the “same old, same old” to a smoothie of Great Lakes Gelatin collagen hydrolysate, Now Foods pea protein, Trader Joe’s organic white rice milk, TJ’s goat yogurt, TJ’s frozen or fresh berry melody, Now Foods original stevia, and some organic chia seeds. I am providing brand names because I have a track record of positive results with these products. Feel free to substitute your own favorite brands with the caveat to avoid anything sold by bricks and mortar mass merchants. Inferior products will cause more harm than if you take nothing at all. Some of my list of items are purchased from Lucky Vitamin and iHerb. Beware of some of the heavily marketed discount internet brands; you know who I’m thinking of. The key ingredient of this elixir is the collagen hydrolysate. I’d strongly suggest Great Lakes based on their track record. You probably will want to avoid cheaper collagen because of numerous reasons of which I will not address in this screed. I was able to purchase an 8 pound bag of CH directly from Great Lakes for a very fair price. Read the information on their website.

    Thank you for your attention. Thank you People’s Pharmacy. Best wishes for your health. Be well.

    • Melissa
      KC, MO
      Reply

      Hi David!
      I read your comment of how this antibiotic affected your life as well as many others. This happened to my husband, too. I think that’s great how you found some relief with alternative therapy. I was interested in your daily smoothie and wondered if you’d be able to email me more information about it. Thank you.

    • Elliott
      Iowa
      Reply

      David, thanks for the info. Your recommendation of collagen supplementation makes sense. The FDA site has some new information about fluoroquinolone users having a 2-3x higher risk of aorta aneurysms or ruptures, and the suspected mechanism is that they attack collagen, which forms the lining of the aorta (I believe it’s in joints and tendons, too).

      Thanks to all who posted here — I just received a Levaquin prescription as a prophylactic for a prostate biopsy, and will be researching alternatives now.

  17. Wendy
    La Habra, CA
    Reply

    In October 2016, I was prescribed Ciprofloxacin 750 mg for a suspected UTI with no symptoms. (My gyno called and told me I had one after a routine check up) I trusted my doctor. By the second pill, I was a crying puddle of pain and anxiety. I went back to the pharmacist at the big chain drug store and told her my Achilles’ tendons hurt and so did every other joint and tendon in my body. The pharmacist told me to keep taking it because “all antibiotics have side effects.” Thank goodness I didn’t listen to her as I am 100% positive they would have crippled me for life, if not killed me.

    I developed peripheral neuropathy in my arms and feet, and my joints and tendons are deteriorating more and more each day. I live with chronic pain and insomnia. I have seen more than 10 doctors, and not one believes that Cipro could do this to me. I reported the side effects to many doctors, the pharmacist, and even a trip to the ER. No one believed me or offered any help. The FDA has done a terrible job of convincing the medical community that fluoroquinolones ARE A DRUG OF LAST RESORT! It’s up to those of us who have been injured to spread the word to patients and to let them know they will have to fight their own doctors for an alternative antibiotic. And by the way, the re-test my gyno insisted I take came back negative. I never had a UTI.

  18. Lu
    Texas, USA
    Reply

    Just one more old lady here, who has suffered because of Cipro problems AND a doctor who buried his head in the sand. That’s the worst part really when a doctor turns up his nose at your complaints and then condescendingly tells me that I NEVER DO ANYTHING HE TELLS ME TO (when I refused more Cipro and asked for another antibiotic). Now every time somebody with whom I went to high school dies “from complications” of something, I think they must have been prescribed a fluoroquinolone.

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