Hydroxychloroquine is a key therapy for the autoimmune disease lupus, but interest in it as a potential COVID-19 treatment could make it hard for lupus patients to obtain, experts warn.
Hydroxychloroquine is the only medication known to increase survival in patients with systemic lupus. That's the most common form of lupus, a disease in which the immune system attacks different parts of the body, including the skin.
But -- in the absence of good evidence -- President Donald Trump recently touted hydroxychloroquine as a potential "game changer" in the fight against COVID-19. That's led to a shortage in the supply of the drug.
However, recent data has suggested that far from helping COVID-19 patients, hydroxychloroquine might actually harm them. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday issued a statement warning against the use of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 patients.
In the meantime, however, hype around the drug has led to shortages for patients battling lupus, experts say.
"Without access to these medications, a lot of lupus patients will have difficulties controlling their symptoms, which could cause their lupus to worsen and increase their risk for kidney disease and flare-ups, such as painful or swollen joints," dermatologist Dr. Allison Arthur said in an American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) news release.
The AAD, the Lupus Foundation of America and other medical groups are urging government officials and the drug supply chain to ensure that lupus patients can continue to get hydroxychloroquine.
The AAD also outlines other steps lupus patients can take to reduce disease flares and stay healthy.
Just a short amount of time in the sun can cause lupus to flare. When outdoors, AAD recommends staying in shade as much as possible; wearing sun-protective clothing such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses; and applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or higher to all skin not covered by clothing.
Find ways to manage stress, experts advise, because stress is a common trigger of lupus flares.
Stay in touch with your doctor. During the coronavirus pandemic, they can care for patients via telemedicine and adjust your treatment plan, if needed.
"Although there are many different types of lupus, roughly two-thirds of lupus patients experience symptoms on the skin, which can include rashes, scaly patches, sores or even flare-ups that look like sunburn," Arthur said.
"If you're having a difficult time controlling your flare-ups, especially during the pandemic, talk to your dermatologist, who can help," she advised.
The Lupus Foundation of America has more on lupus.