So, my doctor prescribed Cipro for a relatively mild but persistent gastrointestinal something or other I reported. Before I took one, I noted the rather alarming-sounding list of possible side effects. Maybe at that point I should have said, gee, I don’t really feel that bad, and I’ll wait before I take this stuff. But I took the first of the 10 pills in the five-day course prescribed, and the second. And then I googled “quinolone” — the class of antibiotics of which Cipro is part.
Even factoring in the fear-and-panic-amplification effect of the Web, what I found was kind of unnerving. The first hit you get is to the Quinolone Antibiotics Adverse Reaction Forum; on the top level, that’s just a bunch of links, including many that no longer work. One that does work is to the alarmist-sounding DrugVictims.org. More links. One that caught my eye was an October 2001 article from the Wall Street Journal: “Surge in Cipro Use Spurs Concern About Side Effects.” It starts:
“After anthrax fears spurred everyone from New York’s governor to hundreds of postal workers to take the antibiotic Cipro, drug-safety experts are now predicting a rash of health problems caused by the drug itself.
“Most troubling is the fact that three similar drugs, all chemical cousins of Cipro, already have been pulled off the market after being linked with severe side effects and even death.
“Cipro, or ciprofloxacin, is one of several fluoroquinolones, a controversial class of antibiotics that can cause a range of bizarre side effects: from psychological problems and seizures to ruptured Achilles tendons.”
I was already feeling uncomfortable taking this drug. Now I felt like I didn’t want to take another dose of Cipro. So, even imagining the warnings about starting an antibiotic and not finishing it, I stopped taking the stuff (how much harm could one day’s worth do? I guess I’ll be finding out). Of course, to be a perfectly responsible health consumer, I probably should have conferred with my Kaiser physician first. What I did instead was send him an email just now telling him about my uneasiness with taking this medicine and what I decided to do. It’ll be interesting to hear what he has to say about it.
I’m also thinking about where you draw the line on this kind of concern. Very few medical treatments are without risks, from aspirin to flu shots to childhood immunization. Sometimes the risks are serious. I guess I’m thinking about the benefits of taking Cipro versus the potential cost. The benefit is that this antibiotic will make good and sure any potentially harmful bacteria in my digestive tract (as well as all the other flora down there) are good and dead. The potential cost I’m most worried about is suffering some sort of traumatic muscle or tendon injury somewhere down the line brought on by the drug.