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May 25, 2012

Z-Pak Antibiotic May Increase Risk of Death in Adult Patients

Despite benefits, azithromycin does come along with certain risks, one of which may be increased risk of death according to a recent study.

Azithromycin, sometimes referred to as Z-Pak, is a type of antibiotic commonly prescribed to help fight off bacterial infections. Compared to other types of antibiotics, patients taking azithromycin take fewer pills for fewer days, which is why many doctors prescribe Z-Pak over other options. Not only is the pill regimen easier to follow, it increases the likelihood that patients will complete the entire course of treatment, helping to prevent the development of drug-resistant bugs.

Despite these benefits, azithromycin does come along with certain risks, one of which may be increased risk of death according to a recent study. This study, published by the The New England Journal of Medicine, compared the risk of death associated with taking various antibiotics, including azithromycin and amoxicillin. Researchers analyzed million of prescriptions for Medicaid patients from 1992 to 2006 and found that those taking azithromycin were twice as likely to die compared to patients taking amoxicillin. And those at greatest risk for death were patients with a high risk of cardiovascular disease.

It is important to note that several types of antibiotics are known to have possible complications when it comes to the heart. Although it’s not clear why, many types of antibiotics are associated with an irregular heart beat, known as arrhythmia, and increased risk of sudden cardiac death. But up until now, azithromycin was considered one of the safer antibiotics when it comes to possible side effects and complications.

So what does this mean for patients? First, anyone currently taking azithromycin should not stop taking their medication. For many patients, azithromycin can still be the right choice, especially if they are allergic to other types of antibiotics. Second, these findings may lead doctors to prescribe other types of antibiotics to patients with high risk for heart disease, since they are at greatest risk for death when taking azithromycin. However, additional research is needed to better understand the cardiovascular risks associated with antibiotics, including azithromycin. And lastly, patients with concerns about antibiotics should discuss the risks and benefits with their doctor, as different types of antibiotics are appropriate for different patients.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How does azithromycin work?

  • Azithromycin is in a class of macrolide antibiotics, which work by stopping the growth of bacteria. Azithromycin and other types of antibiotics only work in treating bacterial infections, rather than viral infections, such as the flu.

  • What side effects can azithromycin cause?

  • The most common side effects of azithromycin include upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and a mild skin rash. More rare complications include severe skin rash, difficulty breathing or swallowing, swelling, yellowing of the skin or eyes, and an irregular heartbeat.