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What is Plaquenil Used for and What Are the Most Common Side Effects?

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Plaquenil (generic name Plaquenil) is a drug that is currently prescribed mainly for relief of arthritis and lupus erythematosus. It was originally developed as a medication to be taken before travelling to areas of the world where mosquito bites can cause malaria. 

The main ingredient is hydroxychloroquine, which has been shown to reduce inflammation in the joints that are characteristic of certain auto-immune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and to also reduce the associated pain. 

Plaquenil is used in the treatment of lupus and varieties of arthritis, which are autoimmune diseases. It belongs to the class of medications known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). It is designed to reduce skin problems in lupus and prevent swelling and pain in arthritis.

What is Arthritis?

Plaquenil is prescribed mainly for relief of arthritis and lupus erythematosus

There are many different forms of arthritis, such as ankylosing spondylitis, gout, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. They all share some symptoms, mainly swelling and tenderness of one or more of the joints which typically worsen with age. The main symptoms of arthritis are joint pain and stiffness.

The two most common forms are osteoarthritis, which causes cartilage layers that cover the ends of bones where they form a joint to deteriorate with age, and rheumatoid arthritis, which is an auto-immune disease in which the body itself attacks the cartilage at the joints.

Gout is more common in males, and it is caused when uric acid crystals form in joints.

What is Lupus and Psoriasis?

Psoriasis and lupus are conditions caused by an overactive autoimmune disease that lets the body’s own immune system attack its own tissues and organs. Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body parts, including joints, skin, kidneys, blood, heart and lungs.

Lupus is usually diagnosed when a facial rash similar to the wings of a butterfly are seen on the cheeks. There is no cure for lupus, but treatment with Plaquenil can reduce the symptoms, especially the pain and inflammation in joints and so can help control symptoms.

The cause of psoriasis is similar to lupus, since it is an autoimmune disease, and one of the symptoms, apart from the primary one of red, itchy and scaling skin, is also joint swelling, inflammation and pain. Like lupus, it cannot be cured but Plaquenil is useful when relief of joint pain is needed.

What Can Cause Arthritis?

There are a number of causes for arthritis including:

Plaquenil is prescribed for the treatment of arthritis
Plaquenil works mainly to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life for people with arthritis.
  • Genetics – arthritis can run in families. You may be more likely to develop arthritis if your parents had this disorder
  • Age, especially for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout
  • Gender – women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, while men are more susceptible to gout
  • Previous injury, especially in contact sports
  • Obesity puts pressure on the lower joints, especially knees, hips and ankles, leading to a higher risk of developing arthritis.

How does Plaquenil Work?

Plaquenil works mainly to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life. This category of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) is used when anti-inflammatory painkillers, in the group known as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), don’t provide sufficient relief from the pain. 

It is not yet fully understood how hydroxychloroquine works, but it is known to reduce the inflammation in the joints and the associated swelling and pain. Unlike ordinary painkillers, DMARDs work in rheumatoid arthritis by suppressing the excessive activity of the immune system that causes the inflammation of the joints. This actually slows progression of the inflammation, but cannot repair any damage in the joints that has already occurred. 

What are the Side Effects of Plaquenil?

In the beginning, some mild side effects such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, dizziness, or headache may occur. In case these persist for more than a few days, or get worse, consult with your doctor or pharmacist promptly.

Doctors prescribe this medication because they believe that the benefit to you is greater than the risk from any side effects. 

You should discontinue the medication and get medical treatment immediately if you develop any symptoms of serious eye problems, including: sensitivity to light, vision changes such as flashes of light or streaks, blurred vision, difficulty reading or blocked fields of vision.

A serious allergic reaction to this drug is rare but if you experience any of the following when first taking the medication you must stop taking the medicine and consult with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.:

  • Rash
  • Itching or swelling especially of the face, tongue or throat
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble breathing


How do I take Plaquenil?

Normally, Plaquenil is prescribed to be taken twice a day, but your doctor may vary the dosage. It is advisable to take it at the same time every day but again you should follow your pharmacist’s or doctor’s directions. If you missed a dose, it is best to make it up as soon as possible, but do not take more than one tablet at a time.

It should be taken with food or milk.

How long does it take to start working?

Normally, Plaquenil will take one to two months to begin working fully. If you feel that you are not seeing results in this period, discuss this with your doctor or pharmacist.

Does Plaquenil work against COVID-19

There was a great deal of publicity in 2020 concerning the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for SARS-COVID in the early days of the pandemic. However, subsequent studies have shown that treatment with hydroxychloroquine did just the opposite from what was expected. It is associated with increased mortality in COVID-19 patients, and there is no benefit of chloroquine in treating COVID-19. Getting vaccinated is the only approved method for combatting the pandemic.

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