What are the Pros and Cons of Taking Quinine for Malaria?

Erin J. Hill
Erin J. Hill
A mosquito spreading malaria.
A mosquito spreading malaria.

The main benefit of taking quinine for malaria is that it is effective at killing certain parasites which cause the illness. Quinine has been used for centuries for this purpose and was one of the first treatments for the disease. Drawbacks to using it include sometimes severe side effects, upset stomach, and it may not be useful in treating forms of malaria which are caused by certain parasites not affected by the actions of this drug.

Quinine is derived from the bark of the cinchona tree.
Quinine is derived from the bark of the cinchona tree.

Taking quinine for malaria has proven highly effective in treating certain forms of the condition. Quinine works by causing certain substances from forming in the blood where the parasites inhabit. These substances are toxic to the parasites and eventually kills them. Patients may notice symptom reduction in only a matter of days.

The drawbacks of using quinine for malaria may outnumber the benefits for some patients. It can cause severe and sometimes fatal side effects when taken incorrectly or for long periods of time. These can include slow pulse rate, confusion, and abnormal heart rhythm. Cases of deafness and blindness have also been reported.

Most patients taking quinine for malaria will experience side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, vertigo, vision changes, and sweating. These generally go away once the medication is not longer being taken. Some patients should not taken quinine, including those with certain heart disorders or those with severe allergy risks. Severe allergic reactions, which can be fatal, sometimes occur.

In most cases, those with no preexisting health conditions will benefit from taking quinine for malaria because the illness is more dangerous than the medication. When left untreated, malaria can cause severe organ damage and even death. Patients with symptoms of malaria should speak with a doctor to determine the best course of action. He or she will also prescribe the needed dosage of quinine, if used, to avoid possible risks.

Quinine has only been approved for the treatment of malaria. It is often touted as a treatment for other conditions such as leg cramps. This medication is not safe for use in these situations because the risk of severe and potentially life threatening side effects is much higher than the risks associated with the conditions being treated. Other, less severe, treatment options are available for leg cramps and other minor ailments.

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Discussion Comments


The downside of quinine is that it's usually given with another anti-malaria medications. So the quinine side effects tend to be more severe. I don't think it's given by itself.


@burcinc-- Have you spoken to your doctor about this? You will get various kinds of advice about malaria prevention and treatment online, but you should be making the decision about your treatment with your doctor. The duration of your trip, the location you will be visiting and your general health has to be considered before deciding on a medication.

Quinine sulfate is one of the first drugs that came out for malaria treatment and it is still effective. As far as I know, it's effective against most or all forms of malaria. Some types of malaria have become resistant to anti-malaria drugs but I don't think this is a major issue for quinine. So if your doctor has recommended this medication, then go ahead and take it according to his directions. I think you will be fine on it.


I'm taking a short trip to South Asia and I need to take something to prevent malaria during my trip. I know that I have several options, quinine being one of them.

Has anyone taken quinine pills for malaria before? Would you recommend it? Or should I be considering other alternatives like Malarone or doxycycline?

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    • A mosquito spreading malaria.
      A mosquito spreading malaria.
    • Quinine is derived from the bark of the cinchona tree.
      Quinine is derived from the bark of the cinchona tree.