On August 15, 2013, the FDA released its latest warning on the damaging side effects of the class of antibiotics known as Fluoroquinolones that includes Levaquin, Cipro, Avelox and others. These warnings by the FDA, also known as ‘Black Box Warnings’, are the most serious warnings that the FDA releases to the public. This latest release warns of serious and possibly permanent nerve damage called peripheral neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy is a serious health condition that creates burning, pain, tingling, numbness and even weakness in the arms and legs, although it most often occurs in the lower legs. This condition is frightening, painful and has lasting and even life-threatening consequences for its victims, such as an increased risk of falls due to the decreased ability to feel one’s feet.
“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” FDA Drug Safety Communication
Most people would not think of nerve damage as a side effect of a drug, but these quinolone antibiotics have a long history of causing unusual and even bizarre side effects such as: toxic reactions to the sun, liver failure, deadly heart rhythms, tendon rupture, and kidney failure- just to name a few of the problems that have led to many of these drugs being removed from the market.
It might seem shocking that the FDA would allow drugs with such a dangerous history to still be prescribed regularly, but even more shocking is that the nerve damage of peripheral neuropathy has been known by researchers for well over a decade. In fact, a study done in 2001 showed that the nature of the peripheral neuropathy was more severe and longer lasting than was previously believed. The study entitled Peripheral Neuropathy Associated with Fluroquinolones states, “These cases suggest a possible association between fluoroquinolone antibiotics and severe, long-term adverse effects involving the PNS [Peripheral Nervous System] as well as other organ systems.”
Yet it took the FDA more than a decade to give a formal warning about this nerve damage; too late for the tens of thousands who have developed permanent pain and numbness from being given these antibiotics for something as simple as traveler’s diarrhea. There is a time and a place for antibiotics, but with over 20 million prescriptions written per year just for Cipro , it is certain that millions of prescriptions are being written for simple infections where safer antibiotics, or no antibiotics at all, would have saved someone from living the rest of their life suffering from a painful and disabling condition such as peripheral neuropathy.