Chloroquine and its less toxic derivative, hydroxychloroquine, are medications traditionally prescribed to prevent or treat malaria infections. In certain countries and parts of the world where malaria is still present, a person can easily catch malaria from a seemingly insignificant mosquito bite. These medications are primarily designed to treat the strains of malaria linked with mosquito bites, but there are a few alternate uses for these medications outside the scope of treating malaria infections.
Combined with other medications, hydroxychloroquine is often used as part of a treatment plan for a host of auto-immune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. It belongs to a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug classification. Hydroxychloroquine can reduce the skin problems linked with lupus and prevent the pain and swelling brought on by arthritis. This medication may also be used to treat other infections such as Q fever endocarditis, a type of heart valve infection.
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Malaria parasites thrive in red blood cells and other body tissues. Chloroquine can be used to kill malaria parasites living in red blood cells but the medication may not necessarily be efficient at killing these parasites in other body tissues. Doctors often prescribe this medication as part of certain treatment plans for lupus and other immune system diseases.
It is typical for doctors to begin patients on a preventative regimen involving these medications that lasts from about two weeks before to eight weeks after entering and leaving an area with a known malaria problem. Both medications are typically taken once per week, at the same time each week, throughout the duration of treatment. Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine should always be taken for the entire length of time prescribed.
Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are designed to be taken with food. Taking either of these medications on an empty stomach can lead to stomach pains. Ingesting food or milk with a dose of either of these medications decreases the likelihood of experiencing stomach upset.
Common side effects linked with hydroxychloroquine use include nausea, loss of appetite, and headache. Nausea, blurred vision, and vomiting are common side effects of chloroquine use. More serious side effects associated with using hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine include fast heartbeat, ringing in the ears, vision changes, and muscle weakness. Users of either medication who experience persistent or serious side effects while taking these medications should consult their doctor, pharmacist, or healthcare provider immediately.