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What is Dihydroartemisinin?

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  • Written By: Jennifer Long
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Dihydroartemisinin is a type of drug used to treat malaria. It belongs to a class of antimalarial medications that includes artemisinin and artesunate. This particular medication is often prescribed for use in combination with piperaquine. Piperaquine is a similar type of antimalarial medication that metabolizes a bit faster and offsets the delay of this particular medication.

Malaria is a parasitic disease caused by female mosquitos from tropical regions across the world. 22 countries in the Americas, Africa, and Asia have all been affected by outbreaks. The microscopic Plasmodium parasite enters the bloodstream through a bite from an infected female mosquito and travels to the liver where it uses red blood cells to multiply. The body’s immune system does not usually respond to the invasion because the parasite’s residence is in a region that is not monitored by natural defenses.

In many cases, the parasites have genetically mutated to develop a resistance to certain types of treatments such as chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine. Studies show that dihydroartemisinin is an effective treatment medication for resistant cases. It works by preventing the parasites from using glucose in red bloods cells, which is a necessary lifeline for the parasites.

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While most people do not experience side effects during treatment with dihydroartemisinin, some effects have been reported. Common side effects include minor headaches, nausea, and loss of appetite. Some people may also experience dizziness, loss of energy, and muscle or joint pain. These side effects are temporary and generally subside when the treatment has been completed and the medication is flushed from the body completely.

Rare side effects include an allergic reaction determined by the presence of a rash, itching, or swelling of the lips and tongue. Liver problems can also occur and are distinguished by dark colored urine and jaundice. If these side effects occur while taking dihydroartemisinin, immediate medical care is necessary, as these effects can be serious.

There are some potential drug interactions with this malaria treatment. There is a potential interaction with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) medicines, protease inhibitors, some oral birth control pills, and codeine pain medicines. Prescribing physicians should be informed of all medications that are being taken, including over the counter and herbal medications.

Dihydroartemisinin is not safe for everyone to take. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not take this antimalarial medication because the effects on a baby are unknown. People who have low potassium levels or a history of heart, kidney, or liver diseases should thoroughly weigh the benefits of this medication because it can cause complications with these conditions.

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