Levaquin (levofloxacin) is an antibiotic medication that has been linked to peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) side effects. In 2013, the FDA published new warnings about the risk of Levaquin and peripheral neuropathy. This serious type of nerve damage from Levaquin can occur rapidly (within days) and cause permanent disability and/or chronic pain.
What is Levaquin?
The antibiotic drug Levaquin (levofloxacin) is prescribed to treat bacterial infections, pneumonia, skin infections, and bubonic plague. It was created by the drug company Janssen Pharmaceuticals (now a part of Johnson & Johnson) and approved by the FDA in 1996. It has been available as a generic drug since 2011. Every year, over 6 million people are prescribed oral Levaquin, and over one million are given intravenous (IV) Levaquin in a hospital setting.
FDA Safety Warning for Levaquin and Peripheral Neuropathy Side Effects
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued the following warnings for Levaquin and peripheral neuropathy:
- September 2004 FDA Warning for Levaquin and Peripheral Neuropathy
- August 2013 FDA Warning for Levaquin and Peripheral Neuropathy
The FDA issued new warnings because the original warnings did not adequately describe the risk of rapid onset and permanent nerve damage. According to the FDA:
“In some patients the symptoms had been ongoing for more than a year despite discontinuation of the fluoroquinolone. Several patients were continued on the fluoroquinolone drug despite the occurrence of neuropathic symptoms.”
What Should I Do?
Talk to your doctor. If you take Levaquin, it is a good idea to be familiar with the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. These symptoms can occur rapidly, within a matter of days, and they may be permanent.
Seek emergency medical attention if you develop symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. You may need to switch from Levaquin to another antibiotic, but you should not stop taking Levaquin before you talk to a doctor.
What is Peripheral Neuropathy (PN)?
Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) occurs when nerves between the brain and body are damaged, causing a condition called paresthesia in the arms and legs. There are over 100 different types of peripheral neuropathy, depending on which nerves are involved. Many people suffer from general numbness, muscle weakness, and problems with coordination, which can cause problems with walking, fastening buttons, or balancing. Some types of peripheral neuropathy can cause severe, chronic pain that is extremely difficult to treat.
Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy
- Change in sensation to light touch, pain, or temperature
- Change in sense of body position
- Loss of reflexes
- Muscle wasting
Peripheral Neuropathy Treatment Options
Nerve cells that have not been killed can regenerate slowly, and symptoms may improve with time and treatment. Unfortunately, treatments may only stop the progression of neuropathy — not cure existing nerve damage. This is because nerves have a limited ability to regenerate.
Treatments for Levaquin peripheral neuropathy may include:
- Healthy lifestyle: This may include maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding exposure to toxins, exercising, eating a balanced diet, limiting alcohol consumption, and more.
- Medications: These may include painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, topical anesthetics, mineral and vitamin supplements, antidepressants, and more.
- Mobility aids: Patients who cannot walk due to peripheral neuropathy may need to use crutches, leg braces, a cane, or a wheelchair.