What is Imipenem?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 27 February 2020
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Imipenem is a broad spectrum antibiotic in the carbapenem class. It was developed in the 1980s and is used to treat certain kinds of severe bacterial infections. Because imipenem is effective against a broad array of organisms, its use is limited to reduce the risk of developing antibiotic resistance. By only using this medication when it is absolutely necessary, doctors ensure that it will be effective when they need it, because bacteria are exposed to it infrequently and have less of an opportunity to develop resistance.

Antibiotics in the carbapenem class are related to penicillin and cephalosporin. People who have experienced allergic reactions to these drugs should not use imipenem and other carbapenems. It is also important to be aware that this drug can interact negatively with some other prescription medications and that it can be dangerous for people with heart failure, kidney disease, and certain other medical problems. Going over patient history in detail before accepting a prescription is advised so a doctor can avoid prescribing this medication if there are contraindications.


Imipenem is administered intravenously or intramuscularly. It works by interfering with the production of bacterial cell walls, breaking the walls down and killing the bacteria. This antibiotic is broken down quickly by an enzyme found in the kidneys and it is always administered with cilistatin, a compound that inhibits the enzyme, so it will be able to act longer and more effectively. A number of imipenem-cilistatin combined dosages are available from several pharmaceutical companies.

People who take imipenem can experience nausea, vomiting, allergic reactions, rashes, and other side effects. It is important to report side effects to a doctor so that action can be taken if a side effect is hazardous. Some patients develop severe reactions including difficulty breathing. Since this medication is often administered to people who are hospitalized for severe infections, care providers are usually available to provide immediate treatment to people having adverse reactions. If a patient is being treated at home, it is important to be alert to the warning signs of a drug interaction or severe side effect.

As with other medications, when imipenem is prescribed, it is advisable to ask why the medication is being prescribed, what it is used for, how to use it, and how long the medication will be needed. The drug is often administered by a doctor or nurse, but patients should still ask about the dosage and ask if there are any contraindications, to make sure that the medication is administered safely and appropriately.


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