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Safety Considerations of Fluoroquinolones in the Elderly

An Update


The fluoroquinolones ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin, moxifloxacin and gemifloxacin are widely used for the treatment of various types of bacterial infections. Overall, these antibacterial agents can be considered safe and well tolerated drugs. Comparative studies have evaluated the use of quinolones in elderly and younger populations. Although age per se does not seem to decrease their tolerability, specific adverse effects of the quinolones must be considered when they are chosen for antibacterial treatment.

Renal function declines consistently with age and doses of renally excreted quinolones (e.g. ofloxacin, levofloxacin, gatifloxacin) need to be adjusted if a clinically relevant reduction of creatinine clearance is identified. Reactions of the gastrointestinal tract, such as nausea, dyspepsia, vomiting or diarrhoea, are among the most often registered adverse drug reactions during therapy with fluoroquinolones. Treatment with a quinolone causes diarrhoea less frequently than treatment with other classes of antimicrobials. Conflicting data have been published with respect to the incidence of Clostridium difficile- associated diarrhoea in quinolone-treated patients. Hypersensitivity reactions, often manifested on the skin, occur less commonly during therapy with quinolones than, for example, during therapy with β-lactam antibacterials.

Adverse reactions of the CNS are of particular concern in the elderly population. Given the CNS excitatory effects of quinolones, elderly patients should be monitored carefully for such symptoms. It is likely that many signs of possible adverse reactions, such as confusion, weakness, loss of appetite, tremor or depression, are often mistakenly attributed to old age and remain unreported. Quinolones should be used with caution in patients with known or suspected CNS disorders that predispose to seizures (e.g. severe cerebral arteriosclerosis or epilepsy).

Quinolones can cause QT interval prolongation. They should be avoided in patients with known prolongation of the QT interval, patients with un-corrected hypokalaemia or hypomagnesaemia and patients receiving class IA (e.g. quinidine, procainamide) or class III (e.g. amiodarone, sotalol) anti-arrhythmic agents.

Tendinitis and tendon ruptures are recognized as quinolone-induced adverse effects that can occur during treatment or as late as several months after treatment. Chronic renal diseases, concomitant use of corticosteroids and age >60 years are known risk factors for quinolone-induced tendopathies.

Overall, the specific adverse-effect profile of quinolones must be considered when they are chosen for treatment of bacterial infections. Because of physiological changes in renal function and when certain co-morbidities are present, some special considerations are necessary when elderly patients are treated with these drugs.

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No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. Ralf Stahlmann has no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review. Hartmut Lode has acted as a consultant to and/or received honoraria from Bayer-Schering, Sanofi-Aventis, Pfizer and Wyeth.

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Correspondence to Professor Ralf Stahlmann.

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Stahlmann, R., Lode, H. Safety Considerations of Fluoroquinolones in the Elderly. Drugs Aging 27, 193–209 (2010). https://doi.org/10.2165/11531490-000000000-00000

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  • Fluoroquinolones
  • Ofloxacin
  • Quinolones
  • Levofloxacin
  • Moxifloxacin