In January, Kansas University anthropology professor Alan Redd, 45, was a healthy, active father of two who hiked and rode his bike to work everyday.
Six months later, Redd doesn’t bike anymore, as his legs have lost strength and muscle, along with the rest of his body. He’s constantly tired, has severe pain and says he feels “like an old man.”
“I feel like my tendons are becoming unglued,” he said. “I hurt in my shoulders, my elbows, my knees, my Achilles.”
Redd blames his health problems on two common antibiotics, Cipro and Levaquin.
It started when a dull pain in his abdomen was diagnosed as a urinary tract infection. His doctor prescribed Cipro — which has been prescribed for more than 300 million patients since 1987 — to treat the infection. Redd said that as soon as he began taking Cipro, his symptoms and the pain intensified. After a few days, he stopped taking Cipro and was prescribed Levaquin, which along with the brand name drugs Avelox, Proquin and Factive, are antibiotics classified as fluoroquinolones.
The Levaquin didn’t help, and he stopped taking that after a couple days. Ever since, Redd’s experienced a wide range of health problems, from anxiety and insomnia to pain and fatigue.
The problems have had a devastating impact on his life.
“‘My daddy used to chase me up the stairs but he can’t do it anymore because he took quinolones,’” said Redd, relaying comments from his 5-year-old. “The family’s been impacted by this in a big way.”
In doing research into the medications, Redd found an active online community dedicated to raising awareness about the potential side effects of fluoroquinolones. There’s a term used to described the problems — getting “floxed.”
Those who’ve had side effects say they’re pushed aside by a medical industry that hasn’t acknowledge the scope of problems patients can have from the drugs.
“Nobody takes you seriously,” said Sally Court, a Connecticut woman who took fluoroquinolones five years ago, but still has life-altering effects she attributes to the medications. Court has battled doctors for years, trying to convince them that her health problems are related to the drugs.
Cipro and some of the other fluoroquinolones have an FDA mandated “Black Box” warning, the agency’s strongest advisory, for consumers taking the drugs. The warning is related to tendon weakness and possible rupture, and there are warnings against prescribing the drugs to children and the elderly.
Cipro is considered a strong antibiotic, and has been used for people exposed to Anthrax.
Despite the issues described by Redd and others, medical professionals say consumers should be cautious, as with any drug, but warn not to necessarily avoid the drug when it’s needed.
“You always want to weigh the benefits and the risks,” said Allison King, a drug information specialist with the KU Medical Center. But “I don’t think it should stop a patient from taking (Cipro).”
Pharmacist and owner of Sigler Pharmacy, Jeff Sigler, said he hasn’t heard of widespread problems from customers about Cipro or other fluoroquinolones. He said wading through all the potential side effects of drugs is a complicated task for consumers, but he advises learning as much as you can about a drug before taking it.
There are alternatives to fluoroquinolones , Sigler said, but those medications also carry risks.
For him, the benefits of drugs like Cipro outweigh the negatives.
“We don’t want to go back 150 years ago when we didn’t have any antibiotics,” he said, but adds that exposing the problems consumers like Redd have had helps educate the medical community.
Redd said he hopes his symptoms subside in the coming months, though his doctors haven’t been able to give him a prognosis. Some who’ve had such a reaction to the drugs report effects that never go away, while others say that the health issues subside with time.
Reed said he wanted to share his story with others, so they know what he wishes he knew before taking Cipro and Levaquin.
“The consumer is at risk,” he said. “Their health is at risk.”