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Cefalexin is an antibiotic that can kill certain types of bacteria that cause infections. To get cefalexin, you must have a prescription written for you by a doctor.

Looking for a medicine?

Visit healthdirect’s list of medicines that contain cefalexin to find out more about a specific medicine.

What is cefalexin used for?

Cefalexin is used to treat bacterial infections in various parts of the body. This includes infections of your airways (chest and lungs), throat, sinuses, ears, skin and soft tissue, kidneys and bladder.

How does cefalexin work?

Cefalexin works by killing different bacteria that cause an infection. Always finish the full course of cefalexin as prescribed by your doctor to get rid of the infection. If you don’t, you risk the infection returning.

What forms of cefalexin are available?

Cefalexin is the name of the active ingredient. It is available in many different brands, which have different:

  • names
  • appearances (size, shape or colour)
  • forms (capsules and suspension)
  • packaging

No matter which brand you are prescribed, cefalexin works in the same way to treat your infection.

Risks and benefits of cefalexin

Cefalexin helps to treat most infections, although some strains of bacteria are resistant to it. Side effects are usually rare.

The more common side effects include:

Serious side effects are very rare. See your doctor immediately or go to the emergency department of your nearest hospital if you experience sudden signs of allergy such as:

  • rash, itching or hives on your skin
  • swelling of the face, lips, tongue or other part of the body
  • difficulty breathing, shortness of breath or wheezing

You should also tell your doctor immediately if you develop severe stomach pain or severe watery or bloody diarrhoea along with a fever, especially if this happens several weeks after stopping cefalexin treatment.

For more information about the risks of side effects, read the Consumer Medicines Information (CMI) on cefalexin or speak to your doctor or pharmacist.

Note that cefalexin is similar in some ways to penicillin. Don’t take cefalexin if you’ve had a serious allergic reaction to penicillin.

Alternatives to cefalexin

If you can’t take cefalexin, there are other antibiotics that you can use. 

More information

Asking about your treatment or medicine is important to help you understand your options. Read our guide on important questions to ask your pharmacist or doctor before taking a medicine.

You can also visit healthdirect's list of medicines that contain cefalexin to read the CMI for the brand of cefalexin you have been prescribed.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2018

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