Could You Be Genetically Predisposed to the Dangers of Quinolone Antibiotics?

Let’s say this season you got the flu. If you needed antibiotics, It’s highly likely that your doctor may have recommended a drug class called the quinolones. Now research is showing that if you’re unlucky enough to have the wrong genes, taking these pills may have caused severe tendon injuries. Let me explain.

What Are Quinolones?

Quinolones are a class of antibiotics. There are many families of antibiotics, and quinolones fall under their own family based on their specific chemical structure. When we talk about “quinolones” today, this is short for fluoroquinolones. Quinolone antibiotics include levofloxacin (Levaquin), ciprofloxacin (Cipro), ofloxaxin (Floxin) norfloxacin (Noroxin), and many others (most commonly the “-oxin” and “-floxaxin” drugs).

Quinolones are prescribed for everything from simple colds to bronchitis, eye infections, dental infections, urinary tract infections, and many other issues. Unfortunately, however, the quinolone family of antibiotics has been linked to tendonitis and many other well-known side effects.

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The Dangers of Quinolone Antibiotics Are Not News

I’ve shared many issues with these quinolone antibiotics before, including their effects on one of my own patients who experienced horrible side effects from this drug before making her way to me. In this case, the antibiotic was Levaquin for a dental infection. This quinolone set off a domino effect of medical tragedies, from antibiotic tendonitis to a back fusion to more side effects and, ultimately, to chronic disabling pain. Learn more about her tumultuous journey through her own testimony in her video below:

This patient was able to find an effective solution to her pain and get her active life back, but not before a great deal of irreversible damage was already done. And it all started with a Levaquin (quinolone antibiotic) prescription.

Research is consistently performed on these drugs, and one new study suggests genetics may play a role in whether or not we are at risk for the toxic effects and dangers of quinolone antibiotics. Let’s review.

New Genetic Marker Discovered That May Explain Some Quinolone Side Effects?

At a conference last year, study data was shared regarding the potential genetic link to the toxic effects of quinolones. More specifically, the purpose of the research was to determine genetic associations in those experiencing cognitive side effects due to the drug. The study consisted of 24 participants who had neuropsychiatric toxicity due to fluoroquinolones, and saliva samples were obtained from each participant.

The results? Nearly 57% shared a genetic marker that related to the metabolism of drugs. In addition, of the 24 total participants, 16 had severe gastrointestinal issues, 9 had persistent headaches, and 18 had cognitive issues. This research has been expanded into a trial of 100 participants and is currently in process. I will continue to keep an eye on this one until a final conclusion and the specific genetic marker is published as this could potentially identify those more at risk when taking these drugs.

As far back as 2010, I was sharing studies on quinolones, such as Cipro and Levaquin, that found them to be associated with Achilles tendon ruptures. How do quinolones attack our tendons? Our tendons and ligaments have their own stem cells, and quinolones have been shown to injure these stem cells. When our repairmen (our stem cells) are injured, the tendon can’t self-repair, and when they can’t repair, the tendons weaken, leading to tendonitis or tendon tears or ruptures.

Why doesn’t everyone who takes quinolones end up with antibiotic tendonitis? Perhaps there’s a connection between this new study today and the presence of a potential genetic marker that may disrupt the metabolism of quinolones in some people. I will continue to keep my eye on this one.

The upshot? If your doctor wants to prescribe a quinolone, given the potentially severe and well-documented side effects and dangers of quinolone antibiotics, push for another drug class that will cover your infection! Obviously, if you can’t avoid these drugs then it is what it is, but it never hurts to advocate for yourself!

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.

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