Cipro is an antibiotic commonly used to treat UTIs and other kinds of infections. While it has long been a doctor’s staple, there have recently been growing safety concerns fueled by more evidence that its side effects can be really scary. But is it a reason to avoid Cipro, like some websites hurried to advice?
Image credit: consumerreports.org
If you have the habit of reading leaflets that come with the pills you are prescribed, you probably know that the overwhelming majority of drugs have side effects. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics, the group to which Cipro, which is an abbreviated form of ciprofloxacin, belongs, are no exception.
A risky business
Its trade names and versions may vary, as the Cipro family includes such members as Avelox, Levaquin, Baxdela, ofloxacin, and Factive. Many of them are routinely prescribed as a treatment for infections, mostly urinary tract infections. However, more scientific evidence is being accumulated that proves Cipro’s adverse effects may be really dangerous, and FDA warnings follow.
In July, the FDA warned that Cipro should be used with great care–even greater than it had been required before–as its list of serious adverse effects with relatively high prevalence was extended. According to them, it affects the nervous system, which it can damage permanently, and may cause your blood sugar level to drop dramatically. They emphasized that the latter side effect is more likely to manifest in the elderly and those who take anti-diabetes medications. Such drugs aim to reduce blood sugar levels, and when combined with Cipro, can result in a coma.
As if it did not sound scary enough, they warned that mental health is also affected: the effects vary from agitation and nervousness to memory impairment and delirium.
Doctor, can I have some other pill?
That’s what many people who read the warning started to ask their doctors for. In fact, on the one hand, such behavior is normal, as once high prevalence of a dangerous side effect is revealed, it is time to ask your doctor whether you really need the drug in question. There are many physicians who prescribe antibiotics without even trying to think about what mechanisms are involved in a particular infection, and which medication would fit best in this or that case. Some prescribe Cipro just because they have been doing it all along. That is why asking the following questions is a must:
- How is this drug going to help me in my case?
- Are there any side effects?
- How often do such symptoms develop?
- Are there any alternatives that do not have such side effects?
- Are they just as effective?
- What happens if I do not take the drug you are going to prescribe?
Any doctor who is really a professional will not be confused by these questions and is likely to be happy to meet such a diligent patient. However, in some cases Cipro is the only option which can be used, despite its possible side effects.
Some were quick to blame Cipro and many doctors who should “know better”. From the medical point of view, such calls for avoidance of Cipro and the like unless you have bubonic plague or something like that are not professional, if not more dangerous than antibiotics themselves.
First, antibiotics are not used for fun. They are designed to fight infections, and if they are prescribed by professionals, this decision is backed by guidelines and recommendations. Yes, not all infections should or can be treated with Cipro, but there are cases when it is just the drug you need. Take UTIs in males, for instance. In most cases, there is E.coli behind them, and in some areas bacteria are highly resistant to Bactrim, a “milder” antibiotic that is recommended for such patients. It means that in order to treat the disease effectively, a fluoroquinolone is often used.
Second, most adverse effects listed in leaflets are not that common. If they are, it often concerns some groups of patients. In the case of the recent FDA warning, it is the elderly and those suffering from diabetes. For all others, the risk remains low – it remains, but remains low. Nearly all drugs have adverse effects, but we keep on taking them, as their benefits outweigh possible risks.
If you skip Cipro just because someone on the net got scared after reading the leaflet, your infection may spread, land you in hospital and even lead to death. Take everything on the Internet with a pinch of salt–and medical news are a good example.