UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Pharmacology & Therapeutics

Title: New Data: Azithromycin and Levofloxacin and Cardiovascular Risk

Keywords: azithromycin, levofloxacin, cardiovascular risk, mortality, dysrhythmia (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/24/2014 by Bryan Hayes, PharmD (Emailed: 4/5/2014) (Updated: 4/5/2014)
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A new study of almost 2 million prescriptions in VA patients compared the risk of cardiovascular death or dysrhythmia in patients receiving azithromcyin, levofloxacin, and amoxicillin.

What they found

Compared with amoxicillin, azithromycin was associated with a significant increase in mortality (HR = 1.48; 95% CI, 1.05-2.09) and dysrhythmia risk (HR = 1.77; 95% CI, 1.20-2.62) on days 1 to 5, but not 6 to 10.

Levofloxacin was associated with an increased risk throughout the 10-day period. Days 1-5 mortality (HR = 2.49, 95% CI, 1.7-3.64) and serious cardiac dysrhythmia (HR = 2.43, 95% CI, 1.56-3.79). Days 6-10 mortality (HR = 1.95, 95% CI, 1.32-2.88) and dysrhythmia (HR = 1.75; 95% CI, 1.09-2.82).

Important limitations

This study did not have a comparator group of patients getting no antibiotics. Previous data suggest patients on any antibiotic (eg, penicillin) have a higher risk of death or dysrhythmia.

The supplemental index shows that patients receiving azithromycin and levofloxacin had more serious infections (eg, PNA, COPD, etc.) which may have put them at higher risk for worse outcome irrespective of antibiotic choice.

What it means

It seems azithromycin and levofloxacin may contribute to a small increase in cardiovascular mortality and dysrhythmia during their use. A previous study found this is more likely in those with existing cardiovascular disease.


Rao GA, et al. Azithromyicin and levofloxacin use and increased risk of cardiac arrhythmia and death. Ann Fam Med 2014;12(2):121-7. [PMID 24615307]

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