What Are Cephalosporins? Usage, Warning, Side Effects, Drug Interactions

Cephalosporins are a group of antibiotics highly beneficial for treating bacterial infections. They work by stopping the growth of bacteria, which helps reduce the severity and duration of symptoms caused by the condition. The drug can be used to treat skin, urinary tract, and respiratory infections, among others. Let's discuss what cephalosporins are and their usage, warnings, side effects, and drug interactions. We will also provide some tips for using cephalosporins safely and effectively.

How do Cephalosporins Work?

They work by inhibiting the growth of bacteria. Cephalosporins are typically well-tolerated, but they can cause kidney damage in some people. It is because they can increase the levels of a substance called creatinine in the blood. Creatinine is a waste product produced by muscle metabolism and is usually excreted by the kidneys. When levels of creatinine in the blood rise, it can indicate that the kidneys are not functioning correctly. If left untreated, kidney damage can lead to kidney failure.

Types and Applications

The cephalosporin class of antibiotics includes first, second, third, and fourth-generation drugs. All cephalosporins have a basic beta-lactam ring structure that makes them similar to penicillins.


The first-generation cephalosporins include cefazolin, cephalexin, and cephapirin. These drugs are typically used to treat gram-positive bacteria such as streptococcus and staphylococcus. They are also effective against some gram-negative bacteria, such as E. coli, but are not as effective against others, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa.


The second-generation cephalosporins include cefaclor, cefuroxime, loracarbef, and cefprozil. These drugs are more effective than the previous generation against gram-negative bacteria. But they may be less effective against some gram-positive bacteria. They also have a broader range of activity against other bacteria, such as Haemophilus influenza and Neisseria gonorrhoeae.


The third-generation cephalosporins include ceftriaxone, ceftibuten, cefotaxime, and moxalactam. These drugs have a broad range of activity against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. They are particularly effective against Enterobacteriaceae such as Salmonella and Shigella.


The fourth-generation antibiotics are similar to the third-generation cephalosporins, but they have an improved efficacy against Gram-negative bacteria. The fourth-generation cephalosporins include cefepime, ceftazidime, and cefpirome. Cefepime is effective against various bacteria, including Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Escherichia coli. Ceftazidime is another standard fourth-generation cephalosporin and is effective against Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Klebsiella pneumonia. Cefpirome is less commonly used than the other two drugs, but it is effective against Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobacter baumannii.

What are the side effects of Cephalosporins?

Cephalosporins are a type of antibiotic. They are used to treat bacterial infections.

Side effects of cephalosporins can include −

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Abdominal pain

  • Headache

  • Dizziness

  • Skin rash or itching

  • Joint pain

  • Swelling of the hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs

Serious side effects of cephalosporins can include the following −

  • Allergic reactions (difficulty breathing; chocking of the throat; swelled lips, tongue, or face; hives)

  • Bronchospasm (wheezing or difficulty breathing)

  • Anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction);

  • Stevens-Johnson syndrome (a life-threatening skin reaction that can cause death)

What drug Interactions are there with Cephalosporins?

Cephalosporins are a class of antibiotics often used in combination with aminoglycosides. When used together, these two drugs can effectively treat infections. However, cephalosporins can also cause kidney damage, mainly when used in high doses or for long periods. Kidney damage from cephalosporins is usually reversible if the drug is stopped early enough, but it can become permanent if it continues for too long. For this reason, it is essential to be aware of the potential risks of using cephalosporins and monitor kidney function closely when these drugs are used.

Also, suppose your child is younger than 28 days old and has been prescribed ceftriaxone (a type of cephalosporin antibiotic). In that case, it is essential to monitor them for signs of kidney damage closely. The symptoms include decreased urination, swelling of the extremities, lethargy, and weight gain.

Do Cephalosporins cause Thrombocytopenia?

Cephalosporins are generally safe and well-tolerated but can cause some side effects. One of the potential side effects of cephalosporins is thrombocytopenia. A low level of blood platelets in the body usually indicates it, and Platelets help curb bleeding by clotting the blood. A low level of platelets can lead to easy bruising and bleeding. Thrombocytopenia is generally temporary and resolves once the person stops taking the cephalosporin. In rare cases, thrombocytopenia can be severe and life-threatening. If you feel symptoms while taking cephalosporin, be sure to tell your doctor immediately.

Do Cephalosporins cover Enterococcus?

Enterococcus is a type of bacteria that can cause infections in the urinary tract, blood, and wounds. Some cephalosporins, such as cephalexin (Keflex), can be used to treat enterococcal infections. Other cephalosporins, such as cefazolin (Ancef) and cefuroxime (Zinacef), are ineffective against enterococcus.

Cephalosporins vs. Penicillin

Cephalosporins and penicillins are two types of antibiotics. Both are effective against a wide range of bacteria, but there are some critical differences between the two. Penicillin was the first-ever antibiotic in the world and has been used for over 70 years. It is derived from a fungus called Penicillium Rubens. Penicillin is effective against Gram-positive bacteria, including streptococci and staphylococci.

Cephalosporins were first developed in the 1950s. The class of drugs is derived from a different fungus called Cephalosporium acremonium. They are effective against both Grampositive and Gram-negative bacteria. In addition, cephalosporins are generally more resistant to beta-lactamase enzymes, which can destroy penicillin.

The choice of antibiotic depends on the type of infection that is being treated. For most conditions, either cephalosporins or penicillin will be effective. However, cephalosporin may be the better choice for some severe illnesses, such as meningitis or pneumonia.


Cephalosporins are a class of antibiotics that have been used for many years to treat infections caused by bacteria. They can be taken orally or injected and, if used properly, can help resolve bacterial infections effectively. However, it would help if you also acknowledged that cephalosporins come with certain risks, including drug interactions and side effects. It is always best to consult a doctor before taking any medication to ensure your health's safety and receive the best possible care.

Updated on: 24-Jan-2023


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