Some Antibiotics May Do More Harm Than Good

When taken properly, antibiotics are generally thought of as innocuous, helpful medications. However, not all bacteria-fighting drugs are alike. One class of antibiotics, called fluoroquinolones, can cause dangerous, possibly permanent, side effects—even birth defects.

Despite their extreme potency and potential risks, fluoroquinolones—including Avelox, Cipro, Factive, Levaquin, and Ofloxacin—are commonly prescribed to treat a host of less-severe bacterial infections, such as sinus infections, bronchitis, ear aches, and urinary tract infections.

An FDA safety review conducted last year found that, whether taken orally or injected, serious side effects from fluoroquinolones can occur, affecting tendons, muscles, joints, nerves, and the central nervous system (including psychosis, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and hallucinations). Side effects can occur hours to weeks after taking the medication and can become permanent.

“Fluoroquinolones have risks and benefits that should be considered very carefully,” said Edward Cox, M.D., director of the Office of Antimicrobial Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “It’s important that both healthcare providers and patients are aware of both the risks and benefits of fluoroquinolones and make an informed decision about their use.”

In response to the findings, the FDA is requiring drug labels and medication guides for all fluoroquinolone antibacterial drugs to be updated to include the new safety information. It also recommends physicians consider limitations when prescribing fluoroquinolones.

In particular, pregnant women should not take fluoroquinolones. An in-depth 2017 study published by the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found a link between the antibiotics and birth defects.

When you are prescribed an antibiotic, ask your healthcare provider what kind of antibiotic it is and if it’s absolutely necessary to your treatment. If, after taking an antibiotic—or any medication—you are experiencing any serious side effects, get in touch with your doctor right away. Check the license of your doctor on the Medical Board of California website,


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