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An image of an orange and white medicine capsule against a black backgroundAntibiotics can save lives by fighting bacterial infections, but that’s not to say that they’re without risk. These strong medicines can have some alarming side effects, as well, resulting in thousands of lawsuits each year.

What kinds of side effects do antibiotics cause?

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It’s been estimated that over 140,000 emergency visits are made to the hospital each year due to antibiotic-associated side effects, with allergic reactions being the most common. “Minimizing unnecessary antibiotic use by even a small percentage could significantly reduce the immediate and direct risks of drug-related adverse events in individual patients,” a 2007 study showed.

Oral fluoroquinolones are the most popular antibiotics, and include Cipro (ciprofloxacin), Levaquin (levofloxafin) and Avelox (moxifloxacin). But taking these antibiotics increases your risk of developing a retinal detachment by five times compared with nonusers, a recent study shows.

In 2006, consumer group Public Citizen petitioned the FDA to place a warning on fluoroquinolones warning of the potential for tendon ruptures. “The tendon that most frequently ruptures is the Achilles tendon, which causes sudden and severe pain, swelling and bruising, and difficulty walking,” a press release states, adding that ruptures have also occurred in the rotator cuff, biceps, hand and thumb.

“One theory is that fluoroquinolones are toxic to tendon fibers and may decrease blood supply in tendons that already have a limited blood supply,” the press release reads. It was not until 2008 that the FDA began to require a warning label.

In addition, a Swedish study found that these types of antibiotics can sometimes cause peripheral neuropathy, a condition that causes numbness and pain in the hands and feet, although the number of reported cases was small.

Another dangerous antibiotic, azithromycin, was recently shown to nearly triple cardiovascular mortality compared to the rate for a group of patients who didn’t take the antibiotic. Although deaths associated with the use of this antibiotic are rare, the highest rate was seen in people with cardiovascular disease.

Are antibiotics used too often?

Antibiotics are overused “by lazy doctors who are trying to kill a fly with an automatic weapon,” pharmacological epidemiologist Mahyar Etiman told the New York Times.

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