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Levaquin (Levofloxacin) Side Effects Leave Long-Lasting Disabilities

Fluoroquinolone antibiotics like Levaquin (levofloxacin) may have unexpected and long-lasting side effects. Joints, tendons and nerves can all be affected.
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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.

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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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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I was prescribed Levaquin for a bad lung infection in 2016. I got pulmonary blood clots in both lungs and was in the hospital for 3 days. Had to start taking Xarelto and need it for life now. After that happened to me I read that 700 other people got pulmonary embolisms after taking Levaquin. Taking that medicine came very close to killing me

I was prescribed Leovofloxicin for an abdominal infection. After 3 pills my right leg swelled up, and there was pain. I went to my doctor’s office and was advised to continue taking the drug. After the 4th pill my left leg swelled up, and there was severe pain in my calf so I could hardly walk. I stopped taking the pill. The swelling and pain has subsided but now I have popping and clicking in my legs when I walk. I don’t know yet whether this will also subside and may be caused by tendonitis.

Talk to your doctor about chelation therapy. Chelated magnesium and calcium can “leach” what is left of the drug out of your body. This is starting to become a standard treatment for FQ adverse reactions, and it makes sense, since the prescription tells you to avoid antacids with cal/mag, since they interfere with drug absorption. Good luck to you!!

I was given Levaquin back in June of 2003 for a sinus, ear, and throat infection. This was when the pharmas first started pushing fluoroquinolones in primary care as wonder drugs. 2 days into a 10 day course, my forearms started to ache, but I ignored it as being from work. The morning of what would have been dose 6, I woke up and couldn’t move from the horrible pain I was experiencing from head to toe. I was 32. It took an enormous amount of effort to get myself out of bed and moving. I had no clue what was going on. I went to take my antibiotic, and then something made me pause and think “Is this the cause?”

I started looking around on my computer, and what I found horrified me. I found a whole Yahoo community of over 1200 people (a lot for that time period) who had been damaged by a fluoroquinolone. They called themselves floxies, and what I was experiencing wasn’t uncommon.
This was Saturday, and I called my doctor on Monday to tell them my experience. They told me to definitely stop taking it, and prescribed another a/b, and that I should be feeling back to normal once the Levaquin cleared my system. Two weeks later, I was in my doctor’s office with a long list of symptoms, including severe pain. He gave me steroids, which we later found out were not supposed to be given within 6 weeks of these drugs (for me, more), and it made things even worse.

My life as I knew it changed with those 6 doses. I developed Fibromyalgia, neuropathy, a movement disorder, and it does up damage to my back and neck from an auto accident to the point where in just 8 years after Levaquin, and 11 years after the accident (I wasn’t quite 40), I was riddled with spinal problems including DDD,disc bulges, severe osteoarthritis, and in 2017, I had my right knee replaced (at 46) because I was bone on bone. My orthopedist said he could have been looking at the knee of someone twice my age. Now several vertebrae in my spine are already at a level that fall into the surgical range, and all of my joints, muscles, and tendons rebel constantly. I know it’s because the Levaquin changed mitochondriA and deleted/changed sequencing of dRNA code in my body. I’m now 16 years out from my floxing, and I’ve faced the fact that it’s permanently disabled me.

At routine pulmonary followup 5.30.19 was told I had bronchitis that was not viral, as I had been treated for. The doctor ordered Levaquin 500 with steroids, over my protest. I have already had a tendon rupture (after Cipro and long agony of tendonitis). He said that was really rare. Repeated myself, and he again said it was really rare. At worst, he said, I would have muscle weakness. I said I have muscle weakness from inclusion body myositis, and I don’t need more. He got testy and said this is what I must have.

Felt beyond crap by the time I got home so took the pills when they arrived and woke with dizziness (felt like I was spinning and pitching forward), feelings of icy hot on feet, ankles, lower legs and profound weakness with a feeling like a feral cat when cornered.

Instant Messaged both pulmonary and neuro docs. Got switched to Zithromax over their protest. Then read 5 pages pharmacy sent. It said that tendon issues are worse in patients over 60, on steroids, with hx of tendon issues. It was black-boxed for Myasthenia Gravis but not mentioned by any other NMD. Pulmonary doc maintains this is not-drug related even though persisting to this day. I am terrified that if I get sick it will kill me. One pill has massively increased the deterioration in function I had with IBM.

Last June I had an ear infection and suspected a sinus infection. I took many antibiotics and was not getting better. Then July 2018 I took Levofloxacin, and the next day I had pain in my arms, back, feet. I told the doctor, and she said it was not the medicine. I took the rest of it anyway. I still had aches but they subsided some after I took it. I assumed it would go away. My sinus issues continued, and this doctor kept giving me other antibiotics, and then I ended up on Levofloxacin again, not realizing I had taken it before until I started it again. I feel so dumb that I did not research this. After taking it in July and September 2018 I still get aches and pains, neuropathy, tingling, poking sensations in my feet and lower legs, hands, arms, pins and needles.

I have no one to turn to because all the doctors just think we’re nuts. I know my body. If you don’t have a life or death infection stay away from these classes of drugs. They are not meant for minor infections! You have to be your own researcher. Educate yourself, and read warning labels. If the doctor tells you to keep taking it demand a different antibiotic or get another doctor.

I saw an ENT for a stubborn sinus infection. Despite me telling him that I have a history of many drug intolerances and allergies he prescribed 750 mg Levofloxacin with a pill-form steroid once daily for ten days. He stated I’d only need to be concerned about side effects if I was “training for a marathon” He also stated that either I would have to take this medication or be hospitalized.

After my fifth dose I woke up to excruciating abdominal pain and extreme muscle weakness. My family took me to the ER. I was diagnosed with “constipation” and admitted for a short course of laxatives. The medical staff refused to listen to us when we told them that the only change in my routine was the Levofloxacin and new steroid. Instead the staff labeled me as “attention-seeking” and “fixating” on the medication side effects. I fear for the safety of other patients experiencing similar issues.

Thankfully, my PCP understands the toxicity of the medication and doesn’t embrace the “one-size-fits-all” mentality that much of the medical profession does. He has me trying magnesium citrate and dye-free rehydration fluids. AND, he is treating my sinus infection with a less toxic antibiotic.

Now, I have to go through appropriate channels in an effort to get my case heard by the hospital administration. Why do so many doctors remain ignorant of the effects of this toxic class of drugs when the black box warnings have been out since 2016???

I also took a steroid and z-pak for bronchitis which did not work. I was given Levaquin because I am allergic to Penicillin and Sulfa. I had numbness and tingling in my right hand and feet the first night. It went away by mid morning the next day. After 5 days I developed tendonitis in left shoulder and arm and left knee and had neck tingling and ankle tingling. I too am praying it will go away as I love to run and exercise and have a job that requires lifting. I cannot do these former things at this time.

I have the same symptoms as most of you. Pain, stiffness, in my knees, shoulders, hands and Feet. I didn’t have any of these symptoms until I took levaquin in 2016. I went to the Dr and they said I had RA. My question is will i every get better?

For the second time this year I was on a ten day regimen of levofloxacin for an ear infection. The first time I had ankle pain. Did not think to relate it to the medicine. After I finished the second round I had ankle pain along with elbow, shoulder, knee and muscle pain. I am a 79 year-old female and truly hope and pray that these aches and pains are not permanent. After reading all the comments I am not encouraged. Is there anyone out there that recovered from these maladies?

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