Pharmacokinetics of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine during treatment of rheumatic diseases

Lupus. 1996 Jun;5 Suppl 1:S11-5.


Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and chloroquine (CQ) are well absorbed (0.7-0.8 bioavailability) when given orally. Severe malnutrition (such as kwashiorkor) effects absorption but diahrrea does not. Both HCQ and CQ have prolonged half-lives, between 40 and 50 days, and low blood clearance (e.g. hydroxychloroquine's blood clearance is 96 ml/min). There is great variability of blood concentrations with an eleven-fold range of drug concentrations found after similar doses in RA patients. Protein binding ranges between 30 and 40% with binding to both albumin and alpha, glycoprotein. There is differential binding and metabolism of the (R) and (S) stereoisomers. Both drugs bind strongly to pigmented tissues but also bind to mononuclear cells, muscles, etc. There is stereo-selective excretion of both drugs and 40-50% of the drug is excreted renally. Between 21 and 47% is excreted unchanged. There is a suggestion of concentration response and concentration toxicity relationships with decreased morning stiffness as HCQ concentrations increase and increased EKG abnormalities as CQ concentrations become higher, but further testing is required. Pharmacokinetic interaction studies are limited. Potentially important kinetic interactions have been documented for d-penicillamine and cimetidine but have not been found for aspirin, ranitidine or imipramine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antirheumatic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antirheumatic Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Biological Availability
  • Chloroquine / administration & dosage
  • Chloroquine / pharmacokinetics*
  • Chloroquine / therapeutic use
  • Drug Interactions
  • Humans
  • Hydroxychloroquine / administration & dosage
  • Hydroxychloroquine / pharmacokinetics*
  • Hydroxychloroquine / therapeutic use
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Rheumatic Diseases / drug therapy
  • Rheumatic Diseases / metabolism*
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Hydroxychloroquine
  • Chloroquine