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What is Hydroxychloroquine?

By A. Gabrenas
Updated May 17, 2024
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Hydroxychloroquine is a type of prescription medication generally taken orally in the form of a pill. It is a type of antimalarial drug, meaning it can help keep a person from getting malaria and/or treat the disease if a person does become infected. In addition, hydroxychloroquine may also be used to treat some autoimmune disorders. Health-care providers generally warn that there are some possible side effects associated with this medication and that its use may be contraindicated in certain people.

Malaria is a disease that can be spread to humans when they are bitten by mosquitoes carrying the parasite. Hydroxychloroquine may be given to help prevent malaria in people who are planning visit areas where the disease is common, such as Africa and certain parts of South America. In these cases, travelers are typically advised to take the medication starting a couple of weeks before travel, continuing until a few weeks after they return. Hydroxychloroquine may also be used to treat people who contract malaria. As both a preventative medication and treatment, it typically works by fighting the parasite that causes the malaria.

In addition to preventing and treating malaria, hydroxychloroquine may also be used to help treat certain autoimmune disorders, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. These disorders are not caused by the malaria parasite, but rather by an overreaction of the body's own immune system. This overreaction can cause the immune system to inappropriately attack certain parts of the body, such as the joints in the case of rheumatoid arthritis. Hydroxychloroquine is thought to work in these cases by helping to lower the immune system's response and reduce the symptoms and damage it may be causing by fighting the body's own tissues.

Health-care providers typically warn patients about numerous possible side effects that may be caused by hydroxychloroquine. The most common ones generally include stomach upset, headache and dizziness. More serious side effects may include changes in vision or hearing, ringing in the ears, convulsions and mood changes. Due to the fact that serious damage to the eyes can be caused by hydroxychloroquine, health-care providers generally recommend regular eye exams to check for problems in people who take the medication for long periods of time.

There are some people for whom health-care providers recommend against the use of hydroxychloroquine. This can include people with certain liver, kidney and skin problems. It can also include people who take certain medications, such as those processed by the liver. For these people, taking hydroxychloroquine may increase the risk of serious side effects, worsening an underlying condition.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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