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What Are the Most Common Hydroxychloroquine Side Effects?

By Victoria Blackburn
Updated May 17, 2024
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Hydroxychloroquine is a generic drug that is used to both prevent and treat some types of malaria. As well as treating non-chloroquine resistant malaria, it is also used for diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, which are auto-immune diseases. It is also sold under the brand name of Plaquenil®. There are a variety of hydroxychloroquine side effects, but most are not common. The most common hydroxychloroquine side effects depend upon the disease being treated, but often include gastrointestinal symptoms.

When hydroxychloroquine is used to treat malaria for a short period of time, many side effects can result. Common hydroxychloroquine side effects in these cases include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea and headaches. The most common are mild stomach cramps, which can be accompanied by diarrhea, and mild nausea. In some cases, the person may also experience a lack of appetite. While these side effects are common, it is important to report them to a doctor, particularly if they change or intensify, or further symptoms develop.

If the drug is used to treat lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, the patient will have to take it for long periods of time. Hydroxychloroquine side effects for these patients include those mentioned previously, as well as acne, anemia, blood disorders, changes to eye, skin and hair color, nightmares and skin inflammation. It has been associated with making psoriasis and porphyria conditions worse.

Allergic reactions can occur in some individuals who take hydorxychloroquine. The severity of the allergic reaction will determine the effects felt by the patient. Mild reactions can cause dizziness, hives, itching and swelling, especially of the mouth, throat and tongue. Severe allergic reactions are rare, but do occur and can lead to trouble breathing, particularly if swelling of the mouth and throat is extreme.

One of the most serious hydroxychloroquine side effects affects the eyes. This usually occurs in people who have been taking the drug for long periods of time. Symptoms of hydroxychloroquine side effects that are related to the eyes include light sensitivity and changes in vision. These changes can include blurriness, bright flashes or halos, or blacked out or missing areas. All of these effects are very serious and should be reported to a doctor.

Muscle damage can also be a side effect of taking hydroxychloroquine. This is a very serious side effect, but it is one that occurs rarely. As with the effects to the eyes, muscle damage often occurs in those patients who have been taking the drug for longer periods of time. Muscle weakness is a symptom of muscle damage caused by hydroxychloroquine.

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