Safety of Hydroxychloroquine among Outpatient Clinical Trial Participants for COVID-19

Sarah M. Lofgren, Melanie R. Nicol, Ananta S. Bangdiwala, Katelyn A. Pastick, Elizabeth C. Okafor, Caleb P. Skipper, Matthew F. Pullen, Nicole W. Engen, Mahsa Abassi, Darlisha A. Williams, Alanna A. Nascene, Margaret L. Axelrod, Sylvain A. Lother, Lauren J. MacKenzie, Glen Drobot, Nicole Marten, Matthew P. Cheng, Ryan Zarychanski, Ilan S. Schwartz, Michael SilvermanZain Chagla, Lauren E. Kelly, Emily G. McDonald, Todd C. Lee, Kathy H. Hullsiek, David R. Boulware, Radha Rajasingham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Background: Use of hydroxychloroquine in hospitalized patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), especially in combination with azithromycin, has raised safety concerns. Here, we report safety data from 3 outpatient randomized clinical trials. Methods: We conducted 3 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials investigating hydroxychloroquine as pre-exposure prophylaxis, postexposure prophylaxis, and early treatment for COVID-19 using an internet-based design. We excluded individuals with contraindications to hydroxychloroquine. We collected side effects and serious adverse events. We report descriptive analyses of our findings. Results: We enrolled 2795 participants. The median age of research participants (interquartile range) was 40 (34-49) years, and 59% (1633/2767) reported no chronic medical conditions. Overall 2544 (91%) participants reported side effect data, and 748 (29%) reported at least 1 medication side effect. Side effects were reported in 40% with once-daily, 36% with twice-weekly, 31% with once-weekly hydroxychloroquine, compared with 19% with placebo. The most common side effects were upset stomach or nausea (25% with once-daily, 19% with twice-weekly, and 18% with once-weekly hydroxychloroquine, vs 11% for placebo), followed by diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal pain (23% for once-daily, 17% twice-weekly, and 13% once-weekly hydroxychloroquine, vs 7% for placebo). Two individuals were hospitalized for atrial arrhythmias, 1 on placebo and 1 on twice-weekly hydroxychloroquine. No sudden deaths occurred. Conclusions: Data from 3 outpatient COVID-19 trials demonstrated that gastrointestinal side effects were common but mild with the use of hydroxychloroquine, while serious side effects were rare. No deaths occurred related to hydroxychloroquine. Randomized clinical trials, in cohorts of healthy outpatients, can safely investigate whether hydroxychloroquine is efficacious for COVID-19. Identifier: NCT04308668 for postexposure prophylaxis and early treatment trials; NCT04328467 for pre-exposure prophylaxis trial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberofaa500
JournalOpen Forum Infectious Diseases
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Infectious Diseases Society of America.


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-Cov2
  • hydroxychloroquine
  • safety
  • side effects


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