Antimalarials for Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Antimalarials for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Examples

Generic NameBrand Name
chloroquine 
hydroxychloroquinePlaquenil

Antimalarial medicines are taken orally in pill form.

How It Works

Antimalarial medicines have been found to reduce pain and inflammation in some people who have rheumatoid arthritis. They are normally used in the prevention and treatment of malaria.

Why It Is Used

Antimalarials are used either alone or in combination with other disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). They are used alone in milder cases or in combination for more severe rheumatoid arthritis.

How Well It Works

A review of studies of rheumatoid arthritis medicines found antimalarials are likely to reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.1

Side Effects

Most people experience no major side effects from antimalarial drugs. Infrequent side effects include:

  • Dizziness.
  • Rash and itching.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Abdominal cramps.

A very rare side effect is damage to the retina of the eye. Before taking an antimalarial, you will have an eye examination by an ophthalmologist. Eye damage can be caught early by self-testing your vision every month or by seeing an ophthalmologist every year. If you have any change in vision, contact your ophthalmologist or rheumatologist immediately.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Talk to your doctor before taking antimalarial medicine if you are breast-feeding, pregnant, or thinking about becoming pregnant.

Antimalarials usually take from 3 to 6 months to work. They are safer than other DMARDs but also may be less effective if used alone or for more serious cases of rheumatoid arthritis.

This treatment is generally well-tolerated and requires no routine lab monitoring, although an initial eye examination is required. If you are also taking hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), you may be taught to perform monthly testing of your vision or you may be scheduled to return every 6 to 12 months to the ophthalmologist. If you are taking chloroquine, you should be scheduled for examinations every 6 to 12 months. If you notice a change in your vision at any time while taking an antimalarial, contact your doctor.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Walker-Bone K, Fallow S (2007). Rheumatoid arthritis, search date June 2005. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence. Also available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Stanford M. Shoor, MD - Rheumatology
Last Revised September 30, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.