Study to investigate connection between vision loss and common arthritis medication


Arthritis Research Canada will examine the connection between hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and vision loss in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

All systemic lupus erythematosus patients, and a large number of individuals with rheumatoid arthritis and other rheumatic diseases, are prescribed this drug because it offers many benefits, including a reduction in disease severity, fewer complications and longer life. The potential risk of vision loss associated with hydroxychloroquine used to be considered very rare, but recent research suggests these changes may be more common than initially thought.

Though this research, which found an increased rate of eye toxicity in patients using hydroxychloroquine, had some critical flaws, like 32 per cent of the data were missing and authors did not control for other competing risks which overestimates the true risk.

“Given the benefits and common use of HCQ, it is critical that the real risk be determined and findings shared with doctors and patients so that patients receive the best scientific evidence to make informed decisions, and receive the best care possible,” said Dr. Antonio Avina, the study’s principal investigator.

While HCQ has typically been considered very safe, inexpensive and easy to take, fear of vision loss has caused some patients to stop taking their medication.

“When patients stop taking HCQ, they are at risk of flares with more active disease and higher risk of organ failure,” Dr. Avina said. “So we need to know the true risk of vision loss and associated risk factors.”

Researchers will use administrative health data to identify and study all patients in British Columbia with SLE and RA who have been on hydroxychloroquine for at least five years. Then they will follow them every year for five years to determine the real risk of eye damage using state-of-the-art eye testing equipment for annual examinations.

The research project will run from 2019 until 2024 and include a team of researchers, rheumatologists, ophthalmologists and family physicians who are committed to delivering safe and appropriate care.


To view the plain language summary for this research, please click here.  



Arthritis Research Canada is the largest clinical arthritis research centre in North America. Our mission is to transform the lives of people living with arthritis through research and engagement. Led by world-renowned rheumatologist, Dr. John Esdaile, Arthritis Research Canada’s scientific team of over 100 are creating a future where people living with arthritis are empowered to triumph over pain and disability. Within British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec, Arthritis Research Canada is leading research aimed at arthritis prevention, early diagnosis and treatment, and quality of life issues.


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:  

Heather Caulder

Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Arthritis Research Canada

604-207-4010 or hcaulder@arthritisresearch.ca

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