Hydroxychloroquine: Dangerous Risks in the Treatment of COVID-19

Hydroxychloroquine: Dangerous Risks in the Treatment of COVID-19

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Hydroxychloroquine: Risks when used to treat COVID-19

For many experts, the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine is one of the most promising drug candidates in the search for COVID-19 therapy. But the drug carries a risk of sometimes life-threatening side effects. In addition, positive effects on corona sufferers have not yet been proven.

The Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) points out in a recent announcement that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) warns again of the risks of using hydroxychloroquine (and chloroquine) for the treatment of COVID-19.

Does the malaria drug help with COVID-19?

US President Donald Trump described hydroxychloroquine as a "gift from God". He is taking the malaria drug as COVID-19 prophylaxis.

The effectiveness has not yet been proven. Rather, scientific research has shown that this drug, like chloroquine, does more harm than good.

This study, which was published in the specialist journal "The Lancet", prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to suspend tests with the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to combat COVID-19.

However, according to a report published in The BMJ, dozens of researchers have expressed concern about the study, which has raised concerns about both methodology and data collection.

The discussion about the (possible) effectiveness of the drug in COVID-19 will therefore continue.

Medicines with severe side effects

As the BfArM writes, hydroxychloroquine, which has been approved for the treatment of malaria and certain autoimmune diseases, has been used for the treatment of COVID-19 sufferers, but no positive effects have been proven in this patient population.

Various observational studies in COVID-19 have reported that hydroxychloroquine (and chloroquine) are associated with an increased risk of cardiac problems. According to the information, these are known side effects of hydroxychloroquine, which include cardiac arrhythmia and cardiac arrest.

Therefore, before prescribing, it should be checked whether there are other risk factors for cardiac arrhythmias such as pre-existing heart diseases, electrolyte disorders (potassium, magnesium) or the simultaneous treatment with medicinal products that can prolong the QT interval.

According to the BfArM, cardiac arrhythmias are more likely and more serious if hydroxychloroquine is used in doses higher than those recommended for the approved indications or if it is combined with certain antibiotics such as azithromycin.

In addition to cardiac side effects, hydroxychloroquine can also cause neuropsychiatric disorders such as arousal, insomnia, confusion, psychosis, and thoughts of suicide.

In addition, the drug can cause liver function disorders and neuronal damage that can lead to epileptic seizures (convulsions), and it can lower blood sugar.

Studies suspended or stopped

In view of the emerging data situation, some EU countries have suspended or stopped clinical studies to investigate hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 patients.

For some studies, including the large multinational study “Solidarity” by the WHO, the admission of patients to experimental arms with hydroxychloroquine was suspended.

A preliminary review of the recovery study, a large ongoing study of COVID-19 sufferers, did not reveal any reasons to suspend or cancel the study.

As long as further analysis of the available data is carried out, according to the BfArM, hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 should only be used in clinical studies or in cases of hardship in hospitalized patients under strict supervision.

Patients who have been prescribed hydroxychloroquine for approved indications (malaria and certain autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus) should continue to take the medicine as directed by the doctor. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM): Hydroxychloroquine: Another warning about risks when used for the treatment of COVID-19, (accessed: 02.06.2020), Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM)
  • European Medicines Agency (EMA): COVID-19: reminder of the risks of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, (access: 02.06.2020), European Medicines Agency (EMA)
  • Mehra M et al .: Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a multinational registry analysis; in: The Lancet, (published: 22.05.2020), The Lancet
  • Elisabeth Mahase: Covid-19: 146 researchers raise concerns over chloroquine study that halted WHO trial; in: The BMJ, (published: 02.06.2020), The BMJ

Video: Hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin for the treatment of COVID-19Review of study by Didier Raoult (January 2023).