Hydroxychloroquine: balancing the need to maintain therapeutic levels with ocular safety

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Purpose of review

Antimalarial drugs including chloroquine, its less toxic quinolone-derivative hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), and quinacrine have become cornerstones in the treatment of autoimmune diseases including systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis, and Sjogren syndrome; cutaneous disorders, antiphospholipid syndrome, and have recently been employed at higher dioses in oncology. Benefits include anti-inflammatory effects, protection against thrombosis, and improved control of hyperglycemia and hyperlipidemia. In general, both the therapeutic advantages and the toxic effects of the drugs correlate with the dose and the duration of therapy. Here we summarize the current literature regarding the administration and the safety profile of HCQ in management of rheumatologic disease and focus on the most recent revised American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) guidelines for prevention and detection of hydroxychloroquine retinopathy to help guide therapeutic decision-making for patients.

Recent findings

The risk of antimalarial-induced retinal toxicity is better predicted by calculating the daily dosage based on 5 mg/kg total body weight rather than 6.5 mg/kg lean body weight and reducing dosage in patients with risk factors such as renal failure. The risk of retinal toxicity after 5 years is substantially increased even when these guidelines are followed; hence dose reduction is appropriate with long-term use. Newer techniques provide improved detection of early signs of retinal damage. These advances are reflected in the revised AAO guidelines 2016, which are in part based on the retrospective study by Melles and Marmor of HCQ toxicity.


The most important changes in practice guidelines include dose calculation based on total body weight, dose reduction after long-term use, and intensified screening with techniques including optical coherence tomography (OCT) after 5 years.

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