Cardiologists have issued a warning about the dangerous side effects of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which President Donald Trump previously promoted as an effective treatment for COVID-19. Combining the drug with an antibiotic could increase the risk of abnormal heart rhythms.
The report, published in Cardiology Magazine, calls on clinicians to monitor ventricular arrhythmia in COVID-19 patients who received the combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. Cardiologists said the drugs may cause abnormal heartbeats that can lead to cardiac arrest.
“While there is yet very little data regarding hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin’s effectiveness as a treatment for COVID-19, some clinicians are considering combining them during this global pandemic,” Eric Stecker, report lead author and an associate professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, said in a statement. “If physicians use their best medical judgement and order this drug combination for coronavirus patients, we want them to be aware of potential adverse side effects.”
Stecker noted there are limited resources that can guide doctors in prescribing and monitoring the effects of the potential COVID-19 treatment.
“Until we have clinical outcome data supporting the benefit or harm of these medications, I would advocate for a cautious approach in using the combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin,” Stecker said. “Any medications that increase the risk of cardiac risk require consideration of both risks and benefits, and right now we do not have evidence that benefits outweigh risks for use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine.”
Emergency COVID-19 Treatments
Trump previously took to Twitter to announce that the anti-malarial drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine could help treat patients with the novel coronavirus. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) backed the president’s claim with an emergency authorization in late March for doctors to prescribe the experimental COVID-19 treatments.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said potential benefits of the two drugs outweigh the risks. FDA’s emergency authorization allows doctors to provide hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to hospitalized teens and adults with COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said people should seek advice from healthcare providers before getting the medications. It warned that non-pharmaceutical forms of the malarial drugs may “cause serious health consequences, including death.”