What is Clarithromycin?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2019
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Clarithromycin is an antibiotic created in the 1970s, which bears a great deal of similarity to erythromycin. It is in common use today, and may be sold under its generic name or by several brand names, such as Biaxin®. The goal in developing clarithromycin was the creation of a drug that would treat roughly the same conditions as erythromycin with fewer gastrointestinal adverse effects. Ultimately, this goal was not achieved with the drug, and the most common side effects of it are stomach upset and diarrhea, which makes the drug similar in more than one way to erythromycin.

Despite the side effects that affect the stomach, clarithromycin is useful in the treatment of many common infections. It may especially be used for sinus, bronchial, or ear infections. It seems particularly effective against many forms of strep, and it’s also helpful for treating legionella, haemophilus influenzae, and the bacteria that causes gonorrhea. It should be noted that the choice to use any antibiotic is partly based on the type of bacteria, but is also predicated on other factors like medical conditions, age, and medications taken. This means that while the drug may be useful to treat many conditions, it isn’t the most appropriate choice all of the time.


One of the reasons clarithromycin may be a preferred choice is due to its structure. It is more resistant to stomach acid. When it is taken orally, it better survives the digestive process, which means more of the medicine gets into the bloodstream.

Another reason this drug could be preferred is because of the way it acts on bacteria. It inhibits creation of bacterial proteins, which helps to prevent spread of bacteria. This may be particularly effective in eliminating certain bacterial forms.

The actual amount of clarithromycin needed to cure an infection varies. Specific dosage depends on patient age, type of infection and other factors, but most patients will take this medicine for 10-14 days. People must completely finish their prescription or they risk re-infection.

Anyone prescribed clarithromycin is clearly interested in its expected side effects. As mentioned, one of the most common adverse effects is stomach upset, which can include sore stomach, diarrhea, and nausea or vomiting. People are usually advised to take the medicine with food as this may help reduce these symptoms.

Though rare, a few people who use this medicine will develop other side effects that could include rash, disorientation, headache, changes in mood, hallucinations, dry mouth, and bad or metallic taste in the mouth. These symptoms should be reported to doctors as should any symptoms that reduce urination or cause jaundice (yellowness of the skin and whites of the eyes). Since clarithromycin clears through the liver, on very rare occasions it’s been associated with liver damage.

To avoid more severe side effects, patients should discuss with doctors any medications they presently take, including supplements or herbs. They should also be forthcoming about any medical conditions. Many people will not have negative reactions to this medicine, and are effectively treated with it.


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