A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

3 things to know about hydroxychloroquine and COVID-19

Pharmacist explains hydroxychloroquine to patient

Early research is inconsistent about hydroxycholorquine’s effect on COVID-19.

Hydroxychloroquine is in the news and at the top of internet searches of people looking for options to treat novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Used since the 1950’s, this prescription drug can treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus to decrease the pain and swelling of arthritis. It also prevents and treats malaria.

Is hydroxychloroquine effective against COVID-19?

More research is needed.

There is little information on the benefits of hydroxychloroquine when used for COVID-19. Lab testing found hydroxychloroquine destroyed two similar viruses that also affect the lungs. As a result, researchers tested it against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, and found potent antiviral activity.

These results moved testing to humans.

“Proving the effect in the lab is much easier than in human trials,” said Logan Whitfield, PharmD, Marshfield Clinic Health System pharmacy antimicrobial stewardship coordinator. “To date, there has not been any study to confirm benefit in humans from lab research.”

Many clinical trials are underway to test hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. “There are inconsistent results in the available studies looking at treatments for COVID-19,” Whitfield said. “Many studies were poorly designed and provide little value for treatment selection.”

Potential for severe side effects

While everyone reacts differently to medications, common side effects with hydroxychloroquine include headache, dizziness, diarrhea, stomach cramps or vomiting. Above all, it also can cause serious side effects like irregular heartbeat.

You should discuss risks and benefits with your provider if its required for treatment of COVID-19.

“Hydroxychloroquine should be used with caution when taken with other drugs that prolong the QT interval, or an important phase of each heart beat,” Whitfield said. “Ask your pharmacist or the prescribing clinician if you take any of these medications.”

If you have any of the following, avoid using or use hydroxychloroquine with caution:

  • Psychiatric illness
  • Heart disease
  • Retinopathy
  • Diabetes
  • Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency
  • Liver disease

Risk of shortage

A limited supply of hydroxychloroquine is available due to the increased interest in using it as treatment for COVID-19. As a result, this shortage affects patients who take the medication for diseases like lupus or arthritis.

“Marshfield Clinic Health System is working to conserve the supply of hydroxychloroquine for use in these patients and those in clinical trials,” Whitfield said.

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