Hydroxychloroquine

Sounds like 'hi-DROX-ee-KLOR-oh-kwin'

Easy-to-read medicine information about hydroxychloroquine – what is it, how to take hydroxychloroquine safely and possible side effects.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Belongs to a class of medicines known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • Antimalarial (for malaria) 
 
  • Plaquenil®

What is hydroxychloroquine?

  • Hydroxychloroquine is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
  • In rheumatoid arthritis, it helps to reduce pain, stiffness and swelling of the joints and in this way reduces damage to the joints, and in lupus, hydroxychloroquine reduces skin problems. It does not cure these conditions.
  • Hydroxychloroquine is also used to treat or prevent malaria.   
  • Hydroxychloroquine is available as tablets.

Dose

  • The usual dose of hydroxychloroquine for rheumatoid arthritis or lupus is 400 to 600 milligrams daily, although your dose may differ from this. 
  • Once you have been taking hydroxychloroquine for a while and your condition has improved, your doctor may instruct you to lower your dose.
  • The dose of hydroxychloroquine for malaria is different.
  • Always take your hydroxychloroquine exactly as your doctor has told you. The pharmacy label on your medicine will tell you how much hydroxychloroquine to take, how often to take it, and any special instructions.

How to take hydroxychloroquine

  • Take hydroxychloroquine at the same times each day, with a full glass of water, or a glass of milk (to help decrease nausea or feeling sick).
  • You can take hydroxychloroquine with or after food.
  • Limit drinking alcohol while you are taking hydroxychloroquine.
  • While your are taking hydroxychloroquine it is important to wear sunglasses in bright light to protect your eyes from damage. When you can’t avoid sunlight, be sure to use sunscreen, put on a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and a hat.
  • If you forget to take your dose, take it as soon as you remember that day.
  • But, if it is nearly time for your next dose, just take the next dose at the right time. Do not take double the dose.
  • Keep taking hydroxychloroquine every day. It may take up to 6 months before you experience the full benefits of hydroxychloroquine.

Possible side effects

Like all medicines hydroxychloroquine can cause unwanted side effects, although not everyone gets them. Often unwanted side effects improve as your body gets used to the new medicine.

Side effects What should I do?
  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Stomach upset
  • Take  hydroxychloroquine with food or a glass of milk
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Sit down for a while until the feeling of dizziness passes
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome
  • Eye problems such as sensitivity to light, blurred vision, seeing light flashes, streaks or black spots
  • Your doctor will perform eye examinations or eye tests before you start taking hydroxychloroquine and every few years (1 to 5 years) while you are taking hydroxychloroquine
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring HealthLine 0800 611 116 
  • Signs of an allergic reaction such as skin rashes, itching, blisters, peeling skin, swelling of the face, lips, mouth or have problems breathing
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring HealthLine 0800 611 116 

Interactions

  • Hydroxychloroquine interacts with a number of important medications and herbal supplements so check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting hydroxychloroquine or before starting any new medicines.
  • Do not take antacids within four hours (before or after) of taking hydroxychloroquine.

Learn more

The following links provide further information on hydroxychloroquine.

Hydroxychloroquine - what you can expect when starting treatment Medsafe, New Zealand

Medsafe Consumer Information: Plaquenil

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Dr J Bycroft. Health Navigator NZ Last reviewed: 22 Oct 2015