cephalosporin & penicillin uses and side effects

Cephalosporin and Penicillin

By: | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments: 0 | August 5th, 2019

Wondering about the differences in the antibiotics cephalosporin and penicillin? Need a quick run-through of their uses? Here’s a smart guide that breaks down the key points. 


What are they? 

They are a group of beta-lactam antibiotics which were originally derived from a mold called Cephalosporium, or Acremonium. They are bactericidal and work against quite a large range of bacteria. Some common drugs are Cephalexin, Cefprozil, and Cefazolin. 

How do they work? 

Cephalosporins bind to, and inhibit, the enzyme activity responsible for forming peptidoglycan, a component essential for the formation of the bacterial cell wall, inhibiting further cell synthesis. 

While the 5 generations of the antibiotic differ slightly from each other in their range of treatable bacteria, in general, they can be used to treat both gram-positive cocci and gram-negative bacilli. 

What diseases can they treat? 

While cephalosporins are not usually the first antibiotic choice, they are easy to administer (orally or intravenous) and useful when other antibiotics cannot be used. 

They can treat various diseases like: 

  • Skin infections 
  • Urinary tract infections 
  • Strep throat 
  • Upper respiratory tract infections 
  • Bone infections 

Side effects? 

Cephalosporins are usually quite safe, except during breastfeeding, or while receiving anticoagulant therapy. However, there may be certain common side effects, such as – 

  • Headaches 
  • Nausea, vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 

Also, at times, allergic reaction in the form of a rash, and rarely urticaria or anaphylaxis can occur. Yet another serious side effect can be the development of C difficile infection. 


What are they? 

Penicillin constitutes a class of antibacterial drugs which attack a wide range of bacteria. Sourced from the Penicillium fungi, there are many antibiotics under the penicillin class, including Penicillin G, Nafcillin, Ampicillin, Amoxicillin, and so on. Some common brand names include Amoxil, Zosyl, and Augmentin. 

How do they work? 

Penicillins inhibit the production of the bacterial cell wall by stopping enzyme activity. By inhibiting the production of peptidoglycans, penicillins allow holes to form in the cell wall which admits entry of external fluid into the bacterial cell, thereby bursting it. 

What diseases can they treat? 

The discovery of penicillin allowed many previously life-threatening diseases to become curable, like pneumonia. 

Today, they can treat: 

  • Upper respiratory infections 
  • Septicemia 
  • Meningitis 
  • Syphilis and gonorrhea 
  • Bone and joint infections 

However, many staphylococci today are resistant to penicillin. 

Side effects? 

Penicillins cause adverse reactions, sometimes. Of these, the most common are: 

  • Diarrhea, nausea 
  • Headaches 

Some of the rarer examples of side effects include: 

  • Joint pain 
  • Yeast infection 
  • Abdominal cramps 

Skin hives or rashes caused by an allergy to penicillin is best cured by avoidance of penicillin. However, only about 0.03% of people reporting allergies have an anaphylactic reaction to penicillin. 

WARNING: Last, but not least, antibiotics demand certain cautionary measures. While it is rare for a person to be allergic to both cephalosporins as well as penicillins, due to similar chemical structure, one needs to be cautious while administering to a patient sensitive to either. For patients demonstrating a true anaphylactic reaction to either of these drugs, neither should be administered. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening if not treated with epinephrine immediately.

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