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Search Health Information    Antimalarials for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Antimalarials for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
chloroquine Aralen
hydroxychloroquine Plaquenil

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

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Changes in your vision, such as blurry vision.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Headache.
  • Itching.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Abdominal (belly) cramps.

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

What To Think About

Some antimalarial medicines, such as hydroxychloroquine, can cause serious and permanent damage to the retina of the eye. When appropriate doses are given, this is rare. If it is found early, eye damage may be reversed and permanent damage may be prevented. So be sure to have an initial ophthalmic exam before you begin antimalarial therapy. Then have your eyes examined if you notice a change in vision. Your doctor may recommend visits to the ophthalmologist as often as every 3 to 12 months, depending on your vision and your doctor's level of concern about eye disease.

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.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

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
Specialist Medical Reviewer Nancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology
Last Revised June 5, 2012

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