Malaria Home > What Is Chloroquine Used For?

As an antimalarial drug, chloroquine can be used to prevent or treat malaria in adults and children. It is also used as a treatment in adults only for extraintestinal amebiasis, an infection that is relatively common in developing countries. Some of the drug's "off-label" (unapproved) uses include the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis.

An Introduction to the Uses of Chloroquine

Chloroquine phosphate (Aralen®) is a prescription medication licensed to prevent or treat certain types of malaria infections. It is also used to treat another parasitic infection when the infection occurs outside the intestines (usually the liver). This infection is known medically as extraintestinal amebiasis.

Using Chloroquine to Treat Malaria

Malaria is a disease caused by an infection with a microscopic parasite called Plasmodium. It is a leading cause of death and disease worldwide, especially in developing countries. While there are more than 100 species of Plasmodium, only four types infect humans. These include:
  • Plasmodium falciparum
  • Plasmodium vivax
  • Plasmodium ovale
  • Plasmodium malariae.
Most people get malaria from the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Less commonly, the disease is spread through contact with infected blood. Malaria is not transmitted from person to person, like the common cold or the flu. You cannot get the disease from casual contact with an infected person (see Malaria Causes for more information).
Malaria symptoms typically begin 10 to 30 days after someone becomes infected. The disease can be categorized as uncomplicated or complicated, based on how severe the symptoms are. Symptoms range from mild in uncomplicated malaria to severe and life-threatening in complicated cases. Early or uncomplicated symptoms include:
  • Fever
  • Sweats
  • Shaking
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea.
If the disease progresses, malaria may become complicated or severe. Severe symptoms may include:
  • Kidney failure
  • Seizures
  • Mental confusion
  • Coma
  • Severe anemia
  • Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema)
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • Bleeding due to blood-clotting problems
  • Death.
The key to malaria treatment is starting early. With early treatment, the disease can be cured and the serious effects can be prevented. If treatment is delayed, it can be a severe, potentially fatal disease (see Malaria Treatment for more information).
Chloroquine is one of several medications used to treat malaria. It is approved to treat an infection caused by any of the Plasmodium types. However, some Plasmodium falciparum parasites are resistant to the medication, which means chloroquine will not work to kill them. Also, people infected with P. vivax or P. malariae may need additional medication to prevent a relapse, or return of the infection.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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